How Do We Reach the Other 99 Percent?

photoIt may be an exaggeration to say that only 1 percent of our population is actively involved in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay—perhaps it only seems that way. Nonetheless, it should be clear that there remains a whole lot more to do, and more people need to lend a hand. This will be even truer when government budgets are cut as fiscal conservatives take the reins in many areas.

I have spent the last 10 years trying to inform myself and inspire others to take action. Many concerned citizens throughout the watershed are doing this as well, through talks, articles, field trips, workshops and lobbying efforts. We are making headway, but the challenge is daunting. We have many more people to reach.

I’m often told that when I give a talk I’m speaking to the choir, that my audiences are self-selected to just those people who care enough to come listen and who are already engaged. In many cases that is true, but I strongly believe the choir needs support and encouragement to take more action as well.

WatershedYet, how do I and all the others working to restore our ecosystems reach those who are too busy to come to talks or to pay attention to environmental issues? One tool I tried five years ago was to write a book about the wonders, history and nature of this area, “The Chesapeake Watershed: A sense of place and a call to action.” My hope was that people would want to know more about where they live and read it. Covertly, in between the stories and history of this area, I was also trying to inspire readers to take some action to save the Bay. The book won national awards and enjoys modest success, but let me assure you it has not reached all 5 million families in our watershed.

SaveingThePlacesWell, if at first you don’t succeed… In September, my new book, “Saving the Places We Love: Paths toward environmental stewardship,” was released. Its theme is that none of us alone have the bandwidth to save the planet, but a great many of us have some place we want to save: a lake, a river or mountain, a forest, a bay, a beach, even the oceans, or more modestly, our own backyard. What each of us does in those places we care about will improve the health of more places downstream.

Books are one way to inspire our neighbors to join us in saving the Bay and other wonderful places, but we will need every means available to keep the effort going and to achieve the goal of a sustainable planet. After all, marketing professionals claim it takes seven touches to get someone to act. Another approach I have begun is an online community where anyone can share a post about their favorite place, the challenges it faces and how we can help. I invite you to send in your story to www.SavingThePlaces.com, or comment on our Facebook page.

One of the things I came to realize while researching the book is that we all have to become champions in this cause and share what we know and what we are doing with all of our friends at home, in our neighborhoods, at work and in the organizations we support—everywhere we have influence.

I am always amazed to hear back from an acquaintance that they have decided to buy a kayak, recycle, compost, buy a hybrid or buy wind energy just because they thought of and respected my commitment to these issues. It’s an experience I want more people to share. You don’t have to be obnoxious to communicate your passion to others. But you do have to speak up.

So get out there and share not only your concerns but all of the things you are doing to help the Bay. At some point, others will follow your lead. At some point, our political leaders will sense something going on, and before you know it, who knows? The other 99 percent may be inspired to go outdoors and find a special place to fall in love with and take care of.

Ned Tillman is an author, speaker and sustainability advocate living in Columbia, Md., ned@sustainable.us. He works for The Restoration Conservancy and serves on the board of the Izaak Walton League, the Horizon Foundation and the advisory council of the Maryland Science Center.

Article is reprinted with permission from the Bay Journal News Service.

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