Market the Solution, Not the Problem

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I was bothered by Jim’s comment on my last posting:

I have a question. You say you are trying to save water, and it was horrible to waste water on the land to the side of your property. Then why do you have a green grass frontyard and backyard? Is that not a bigger waste of water than a small strip to the side of your property? You are not making a difference if you continue to use water on the front of your property and in the backyard.

Clearly this is a sensitive issue for me. I answered by noting that I had reduced grass in my yard by over 40 percent. I also pointed out that I was concerned about not changing garden conditions where mature trees exist, especially since their cooling shade reduces energy consumption. And finally, I noted that my water usage was very low and that I do all I can to water efficiently, even where grass is concerned.

But all of this is not really the point. The real point is that whatever we do to reduce our use of resources is helpful and important. Any change – whether it is turning off lights, unplugging electronic devices, or whatever, regardless of how small – is part of the solution. There is always more that we can and probably should do, but dwelling on the negative only makes us want to forget the problem.

When it comes to environmental issues, people often try to “guilt” others into action – or inaction. In the excellent FRONTLINE documentary on water quality (Poisoned Water by Hedrick Smith), Chris Miller of the Piedmont Environmental Council, noted that to get people to act, we need to “market solutions… not market the problem.” Making people feel guilty about their life style aligns them with the problem.

Replacing wasteful, grassy landscapes with environmentally-sensitive gardens can reduce water usage, urban runoff, and air and noise pollution from mowers and blowers. Although this is true, it is a personal quality of life issue for me. I do not use pesticides or fertilizers because I do not want to worry about poisoning myself, my family, or our water. The habitat gardens that mimic California’s beauty and diversity give me pleasure. Watching birds dart across the yard to catch insects in mid air, leaves me in awe. Seeing lizards battle to the death with grasshoppers fills me with wonder. As time goes on I hope to further reduce the amount of lawn in my yard, but I do it because I love the solution, not because I hate the problem. The environmental challenges we face seem so large and daunting that sometimes we fall into despair. If I were gardening only to solve these problems, I would probably give up. Instead, my garden, in itself, makes me feel good.

From Wild Suburbia

The solution to our environmental problems, as Chris Miller put it so well, is local and personal. When we treat it as such – when we bring it home – we help to solve the bigger environmental problems that threaten all of us. (You can see Chris Miller’s interview on the Piedmont Environmental Council website.)