Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Peer-Pressure and Sustainable Lifestyles

On Fathers' Day, I wrote about how my Dad inspired my passion for green ways of living. Last week, I asked you how you came to your green lifestyle or aspirations for a green lifestyle. (There are several of us who take turns writing posts; I, Don Duggan-Haas, usually post on Wednesdays). This is the third in this series of posts that deals with where your aspirations for sustainability comes from.

In discussions of why people are the way they are, issues of nature verses nurture are often central. Placing the discussion into that dichotomy almost certainly oversimplifies and arguably marginalizes important issues. I won't go into great depth on that argument, but will note that Judith Rich Harris addresses the issue in her 1998 book, The Nurture Assumption, and will note that the book makes a compelling case that peers matter more in character development than either your genes or what your parents do.

I believe Dad's influence on me was important. I don't know whether it was the genes he gave me or the example he set for me that was more important. Further, I don't know if either his genes or his example were as important as the company I have kept. My peers, including friends and colleagues, have greatly shaped the way I see the world and the way I move in the world. That's almost certainly true for you too. And for your friends.

That's a little frightening when I consider the company I've kept, but on the whole, it's a good thing. My friends, goofy as they are, have made me a better person.

Everyone's an influencer. Everyone's a teacher.

I suspect most people who read this blog regularly live in or near Ithaca. Being in a town with Ithaca's vibe shapes the way you see the world and your place in it. I don't live there now, but I have in the past. (I'm PRI's lone telecommuter and live in Amherst, NY). The communities and network you affiliate with really matter in making you the person you are and in shaping both your activities and theirs.

Your community matters, and so do your friends. Obesity and weight loss have been shown to be socially contagious -- if you have obese friends, you're more likely to become obese. If you have friends who have lost weight, you're more likely to lose weight. Similar effects are seen for smoking.

These things make sense -- having a friend lose weight or quit smoking offers both incentive and someone to share strategies with. And more. Having a friend gain weight or start smoking can show that it's not that big a deal in your peer group.

Does the general idea of social contagion carry over to reducing carbon emissions? I don't know, but it intuitively makes sense to me. The Low Carbon Diet is a community-based approach to reducing carbon emissions. It's based on a weight loss approach that involves calorie counting, but instead of counting calories, you're counting carbon emissions. And you're working in a support group with friends and neighbors.

Thinking about carbon emission reduction as contagious doesn't mean you ought to dump your carbon-intensive friends, though you might think about things that your friends have done that influence what you do.

That probably doesn't involve nagging, just in case you were wondering. Showing them the things you've done to reduce your footprint could be helpful. Maybe asking them to shut off their engine while they're chatting with you in the driveway would be ok too.

The line of thinking might also imply making new friends who can offer support for making the kinds of changes you aspire to. And, it can give you an excuse to get old and new friends together to embark together on a Low Carbon Diet.

Can you identify friends who've made you more sustainable? Can you thank them for the help they've offered? Can you talk with them about next steps to take together?

Next week, I'll share some more thoughts on the Low Carbon Diet.

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