Sunday, March 6, 2011

Five ways to be actively engaged

I must admit that I've been battling with a sense of hopelessness these past few weeks, living in the epicenter of the "Crisis in Dairy Land," as John Stewart calls it. At both the state and national levels, environmental protection measures are threatened with funding cuts left and right. Wisconsin, for example, may experience a loss of state-mandated community recycling (to include the elimination of grants aiding recycling programs) and the repeal of mandatory disinfection of pathogen-contaminated drinking water.

Yet, I have to continually remind myself this is not the time to become paralyzed by hopelessness, but rather a time for concerned citizens, such as myself, to demonstrate how much they care about their environment, their personal and societal wellbeings, and their futures. So, in the spirit of Tim DeChristopher (see my previous post), I hunted around for a few ways to participate in peaceful citizen action for the environment. Unlike Tim's strategy, these aren't necessarily "disobedient," but they at least provide an avenue for one's voice to be heard.

Here are five ways to proactively work towards pro-environmental change.
(Note: A couple are biased toward Wisconsin, but hopefully they will motivate out-of-staters to investigate similar opportunities in their locales).

1. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters' Conservation Lobby Day. This event, to take place March 16, is an opportunity for ordinary citizens to speak with their Legislators about the importance of conservation policies. Most states have their own League of Conservation Voters, so if you don't live in Dairy Land, check out opportunities with your state's League.

2. Wisconsin Bike Summit. The Governor's proposed budget cuts $5 million in state funding for bicycle infrastructure. In light of this, one way to voice your support for the protection of the state's bicycle industry is to participate in this April 19th event hosted by The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. The event will also feature education and networking opportunities. Wisconsin's bike industry is a significant economic strength for the state, contributing $1.5 billion annually and supporting 13,200 jobs, as a study released last year showed. If the Governor is setting out to create more jobs and decrease the deficit, $5 million seems but pocket change to maintain such an important source of state revenue.

3. Vote with your fork. Michael Pollan proposed this action back in his 2006 NY Times column, and indeed this remains a powerful tool for citizens to demand more "sustainable" food choices. His basic platform was for readers to stop participating in a food system that continues to damage our health and the environment. Just stop buying fast food. Say "no" to non-organic or foods imported from faraway places whenever possible. Stop supporting a system that perpetuates the status quo. Instead, choose to support and strengthen a system that provides food that is nourishing for you and for the environment. While this action is not new to seasoned environmentalists, the status quo still has a strong hold on our food system. So it's clear that still more people need to be motivated to participate in this form of citizen action. Don't know where to begin? Local Harvest has an interactive website to help you find sustainably grown food near you.

4. Stay informed and connected--Facebook can help. An interesting thing I have noticed throughout the Wisconsin uprising is the apparent influence of social networking. Over the past three weeks, the Facebook status updates from my Wisconsin friends have largely been links to news articles about the scary impacts of the budget and invitations to protest rallies. Not only has this helped me keep track of the almost unwieldy flurry of information, it has also helped fuel my motivation to remain engaged and active in the struggle. And based on conversations with my friends, I am not the only one to experience this. A growing number of studies and articles are uncovering the impact of social networking on civic engagement--a notable example being President Obama's campaign. And, at full disclosure, I wrote an article for Discovery News about this last year.

5. Vote. Tried, trite, but true. Complacency and ignorance are the enemies of positive change. Pay attention to what is going on with environmental and social affairs. Recognize where citizens voices need to be heard. And let your voice be heard. It does matter.


  1. Very nice, Jenny! I can totally use the call to active engagement in concrete ways. And to #5, I might add, vote for JoAnne Kloppenburg for State Supreme Court on April 5! (and thanks for linking to my blog! If you ever want to write a guest post, for my blog, about the dinner swap group you have going that AC's told me about, I'd love that)

  2. Thanks for reading Anna! And thanks for adding the call to vote for Kloppenburg. And another thanks for the guest post invite! Great idea - I may take you up on it. And if you have any food ideas for my blog, I would be happy to host you too.

  3. Nice post, Jenny! I used to have a book called "101 Ways to Save the Planet" (or something along those lines) when I was a little kid, and I loved it. I think we tend to feel so excited about about our planet when we're little, but we get busy with "adult" responsibilities when we get older, and sometimes forget that we can make a change through smaller actions. Thanks for the reminder!

    Number three on your list is a big thing for me now. I work at Whole Foods, and am continuing to learn more about our food - where it's sourced, and how it impacts our planet. One thing that comes up a lot with organic foods is that it is sometimes significantly more expensive. What would you say to consumers who would like to support the slow food and organic movement, but might find it difficult to do so, financially?

  4. You are doing a great job of making this blog relevant, Jenny. Congratulations!