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Stuck in the middle with you?
All that space between recycling and revolution
Lots of people shared this good article about making do from my hometown rag this weekend. It covered all the bases and ticked all the boxes. And yet, it all feels recycled. We’ve tread this territory for so long it sometimes shocks me that we are still teaching ourselves how to make do, how to not buy unnecessary stuff. Our grandparents would guffaw at the fact that we need articles, books, and infographics to remind us to not waste. And yet, I know that I still need these reminders. And yet, I know that we have to start with the basics to get to the not-so-basics, like fending off ecological apocalypse, and using Excel properly.
I dwell on the fact that we’re in a giant MOOC called Waste Not 101 because I’m constantly wondering how we collectively pass the class and move on. It often feels like there’s no way to get from 101 to the graduate seminar on peaceful overthrow because there aren’t any courses being offered in between. What happens in that missing middle space where we’ve done all the small stuff we can do, and we still haven’t fomented a revolution? I guess this is how I feel on downer days, when I want to put all these slow reckonings on fast forward, and get to the nosebleed portion of the ladder despite my late onset vertigo.
Of course, it’s a social-norms numbers game. I’ve always looked to the adoption curve for guidelines on percentages, but tucked inside George Monbiot’s latest truth bomb is a sweet stat that makes change seem a little more doable:
As Erica Chenoweth’s historical research reveals, for a peaceful mass movement to succeed, a maximum of 3.5% of the population needs to mobilise. Humans are ultra-social mammals, constantly if subliminally aware of shifting social currents. Once we perceive that the status quo has changed, we flip suddenly from support for one state of being to support for another. When a committed and vocal 3.5% unites behind the demand for a new system, the social avalanche that follows becomes irresistible. Giving up before we have reached this threshold is worse than despair: it is defeatism.
3.5 percent is you-and-two-and-a-half of your mates in a room of 100. 3.5 percent is milk that tastes like ice cream. 3.5 percent is a decent return once you divest of all the evil companies. When we look at adoption of new norms, transformation can be rapid. Think how quickly everyone started wearing scrunchie socks in 1987. Think how quickly everyone stopped wearing scrunchie socks in 1988. Think how quickly we could all stop flying or listening to Michael Jackson if it was suddenly deemed the worst. Oh wait.
Everyone’s been talking about flygskam, the Swedish term for flight shame. It seems fringe now, but there are many hypothetical scenarios that might not seem so remote in a few years. For example, will there come a day when takeout coffee cups are as stigmatized as cigarettes? My Magic 8 Ball’s at the repair shop, but I’m comforted by the fact that tipping points can happen quick. And if that’s not cheery enough, here’s another one of those positive future pieces about how we solved climate change in 2050. I mean, this week Toronto’s city council took us one gear shift closer to an almost halfway decent cycling network, though I’m not holding my breath. Yes the world is absolute shit on so many levels, but CHANGE CAN HAPPEN and WE CAN DO THIS. (Maybe?)
More on A-words (see last week’s newsletter)
I had a great talk with an amazing reader named Pat about another A-word her organization frequently tosses around - Advocate. I like it so much. It’s the less social, more nerdy cousin of activist. If activists want to mobilize those around them, advocates often work solo, figuring out how to change power structures and lend support. It’s an A-word I can get behind. You?
Maclean’s Climate Package
Canada’s newsmagazine, Maclean’s, has a huge climate issue out. Lots of really good articles. I did comics for it.
Who or what can you Advocate for? Let me know.
And a weekly reminder that if we’re going to get to 3.5% we have to talk talk talk talk talk talk talk climate (seven is the funniest # in repetition, no?):
Have a great week!