I often get invited to conferences and consumer shows to offer up my advice for living a greener, healthier life. After outlining all the ways we’re polluting our planet and our own bodies — along with advice on what we can do about it — I frequently end with a chirpy “thank-you for listening. Have a great day!” And I’m often met with incredulity. Finally one person asked me outright how I could remain so upbeat and energetic knowing everything I do about our planet’s peril. It’s a good question.
The answer: I firmly believe that with getting greener, just like with grief, we often go through stages that bring us to a place of optimism and hope. Of course some of us are wired to look at the glass as half-full. But even we optimists often wade through anger and despair on our path toward green enlightenment.
With apologies to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, I present to you my Stages of Green. Wherever you find yourself on the trajectory, accept it as a natural part of the process and rest assured that you can see your way clear.
1. Denial: Characterized by a thought line that suggests the situation can’t be that bad or it would be on the front page of every paper and on every newscast. While there may not be too many of us left in this stage, there are still a few holdouts. A recent letter to my local newspaper was thus: “For all those who maintain that man-made CO2 is responsible for global warming, remember this: All the living greenery on the planet requires CO2 for essential nutrition. This vegetation then gratefully converts this energy into oxygen for us to breathe and enjoy. Now how could more oxygen possibly be bad for us?” Indeed, a good friend of mine has chosen to believe that climate change really is just a particularly dramatic “cycle” in the natural world. H’mmmmmm ….
2. Shock: “Omigod! It IS that bad!” This stage is accompanied by that gut-wrenching fear that makes us look around for possible escape routes. Sadly, the only way out of this mess is through it, creating positive change as we go.
3. Anger: When I learned that every time I poured my kids a bowl of Cheerios, I was loading them up with genetically modified organisms, I was angry. When I learned that 89% of ingredients in personal care products were untested, I was angry. When I learned that companies were putting toys on the shelves that contained lead, I was angry. There’s plenty to make us furious — and each time anger abates, you’ll learn something new that gets your blood boiling. Just channel that anger to spur you on, rather than hold you back.
4. Despair: This is the stage in which you’re in greatest danger of becoming stuck. No matter what changes you make in your own life, it’s hard to believe they stack up against the new coal-fired power plant being built every two weeks in China. Or the number of computers being shipped off to China to be dismantled and incinerated. That type of thinking, however, makes us all prisoners of despair. Remember Rosa Parks. Remember the suffragettes. Ordinary people can change the world. We’re doing it every day.
5. Acceptance and Acknowledgement of Power: Yes, it’s a mess. But it’s a mess that experts agree we can clean up. Awaken your inner activist. Follow your passion. Love trees? Great. Get involved in protecting them. Love the ocean? There are plenty of organizations with like-minded people working hard. Want to green your kids’ school cafeteria? Galvanize the other parents and get to work.
After all, hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.