My PEC Theory of Individual Eco Change

In this video, a diehard Bill O'Reilly fan and climate-change denier tells how her view was totally changed:


To see the trailer from “Chasing Ice” and learn more, click here.

I’ve been thinking for quite a while now about change, and what causes it. And having just had the hell scared out of me by Bill McKibben’s awesome book Eaarth, I’m more interested than ever in helping change happen.

This brings me to what I call the PEC Theory of Personal Behavior Change with Respect to the Environment. The ‘PEC’ stands for Personal, Economic, and Catastrophic.

The lady in the above video is the perfect example of the Personal reason for eco change. She viewed the movie “Chasing Ice,” and bam!, her mind was changed. Without any – any – snarkiness meant, I couldn’t help noticing that her plan began with “I’m going to get in my car…” Alas. It would be fascinating, would it not, to know how things go with her henceforth?

When people find oil balls on their favorite beach, or sewage in their surf, or a clearcut on their favorite mountain, a deeper awareness of the environmental crisis can often ensue. The Personal experience is the driver, one hopes, of awareness – and action.

Speaking of drivers…they tend to buy more hybrid cars when gas prices rise. Homeowners spend more on insulating, caulking, and weatherstripping when the price of home heat heads up. These are two of the easiest examples of the Economic reason for eco change. This is some ways the most interesting of the PEC three.

On one hand, the Economic inducement is the least 'eco’ – the changes, after all, aren’t being made to save the planet, but to save a buck. It’s pretty much a happy coincidence that buying a Prius or caulking around windows lowers a person’s carbon footprint.

On the other hand, the Economic reason might be the most reliable, most dependable of the three reasons. People can’t be relied on to have epiphanies; catastrophes (fortunately) can’t be assumed to come along and change people. But prices will rise as products become scarce, and people will react in predictable ways as a result. So the least warm-and-fuzzy reason for going green may in fact be the one most worth encouraging. (Hence the push for a carbon tax.)

As hinted just now, the C stands for Catastrophic, and Hurricane Sandy has given me all I need in the way of example – though the droughts and wildfires of the past summer also should be remembered in this connection. None of the long-term charts or scientific data were any less clear the day before Sandy touched shore, or any more clearly understood after, at least by scientists and others who’ve been studying them. But for millions of people, apparently, the hurricane, and the pictures of Wall Street under water, did for them what all the other, less dramatic, information already in the world couldn’t: it made them believers.

Granted, these categories overlap somewhat – the lady in video could be argued to have had a Catastrophic as well as a Personal reason to change – but they make sense to me. And granted as well, there are many people whose commitment to living greener comes from thoughtful and long-term awareness. But if most, or even many, humans need a PEC experience to change, then how can decision-makers and change agents put that truth to best use?

So, dear reader, do you agree with me? Have you or someone you know had a PEC experience?