No, really, turning off the water when you brush your teeth helps!

by jellyfishcreationstory

Which comes first, knowledge or action?

When I read Zoobooks as a child, they’d often have a short list of things anyone could do (even children!) to help protect endangered species.  Inevitably one of the items was to learn more about it.

Learning is great for its own sake, it can inspire action, and it can make what you do more effective.  But it is not the same thing as doing something.

In general I feel that the opposite has happened in my life: I’m more likely to be inspired to learn more about a cause or movement if I start participating before I fully understand what it’s about, than I am to start taking action because I learned something new.

This is a particular problem in the environmental movement.  Higher socioeconomic status, or income levels, or whatever, is correlated with environmentalism (as a stated priority).  But it’s also associated with: having a larger home, spending more on heating and utilities, traveling more, living in the suburbs and commuting to work by car, owning a car in the first place, and any number of other behaviors that are devastating to the environment.  And which aren’t canceled out by any amount of turning off the light when you leave the room or turning off the water when you’re brushing your teeth, for crying out loud.

There’s a gap between supposedly caring about the environment and actually behaving in ways that protect the environment.  I’m in favor of raising environmental awareness, and I think the relative lack of stories about environmental crisis (compared to, say, the number of stories about hostile invaders that have to be fought back) contributes to the absence of constructive action around actually saving the planet.  But when supposedly caring about the environment does less to protect it than just, well, being poor…

…there’s a problem there.