Most would-be agents of behavioral change frame their arguments on external effects with a bit of a self-righteous air. Environmentalists are the worst offenders; Deforestation reduces reduces bio-diversity and increases carbon in the atmosphere. Large corporations act with impunity in polluting our air and waterways. Cars are responsible for X number of cases of asthma. Arguments like these have been repeated ad nauseum. Well meaning people spend a lot of time making other people think they care about how their behavior impacts the world. Some do care, but most don’t. This is a politically incorrect thing to say at dinner parties, but this is a blog, not a dinner party. And I’ll be the first to admit I sold my car for personal benefit, not to save the planet.
In making arguments for behavioral change, the more we focus on personal benefits, the more the message resonates; How do you benefit from eating local food? How do you benefit when polluters are regulated? How do you benefit from taking transit? Framing the argument in descriptive terms (If you do x, then y will happen), rather than prescriptive terms (You should really do this) makes an audience less defensive and more open to dialog. In general, you cannot change someone by trying to change them. But there is a small chance you can inspire someone to change by setting an example. This is a Buddhist argument about the dangers of being attached to outcomes, but I think it fits here.
I’m trying to find a balance as well. Promoting, in what my opinion, is a better lifestyle in living without a car, but avoiding the typical environmentalist arguments and self-righteousness. It’s easy to fall into these traps, though.
While we’re on the topic of promotion, car companies collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising every year. Not only is the U.S. designed for cars, but there are non-stop messages everywhere telling us that owning a car is expected of us as a sort of rite of passage. It’s not enough to have transit that runs flawlessly and great walking/biking routes. These modes have to be culturally accepted, without stigma, and create an emotional response just like car commercials do. Thinking of alternate modes as a product, and not just as a default choice for a dedicated few, may be a start. And getting “opinion makers”, as Malcolm Gladwell calls them in his book The Tipping Point, involved at a grass roots level may help in turning the tide.
Also, it would help if we could create transit advertising that looked like this. But maybe that’s too much to ask.