Changing Behavior is Hard: A Perspective from the United States of America

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By Allison Beebe

In North America, people know about the need for making environmentally friendly choices. However, this knowledge does not often change our actions. We are well informed. News from all over the world is available whenever we would like to access it, and yet our habits toward the environment remain the same.

It is often the case that North Americans care, but not enough to change. People want to make a difference by taking the bus, but not as much as they want their independence by driving their own car. People want to conserve water, but not as much as they’d like to take long, hot showers in the morning. People want to buy food which is grown locally and sustainably, but not as much as they want the best price at the grocery store. People want to travel in an ecologically friendly way, but not as much as they would like to fly quickly across the country.

Choosing the Most Comfortable Alternative

On the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA (the city where I live) you will see many cars on the road. Most of the cars carry only one person. While the city has a well-developed public transport system and programs in place for sharing car rides with people who are going to the same destination, many do not use these programs. This results in high fuel emissions, air pollution, and heavy dependence on gasoline.

My brother is a pilot for a small, regional airline. There are flights from airports which are only 90 miles (145 km) apart, but some people take these flights frequently, usually those who are flying for business meetings. While this trip would take less than two hours by car or train, some people still insist on flying. This practice uses much more fuel. Also it is more expensive for the passenger. The money spent on a plane ticket could be used for a more worthwhile cause.

Promoting Bikes

Fortunately, efforts are being made towards changing the driving and flying habits of North Americans. At the moment, Minneapolis is the most bike-friendly city in the nation. The city received this rating because it has many miles of bike trails, bike lanes on city streets, and many places to park bikes, to name but a few of the criteria used. The city has just started a bike sharing system that is quite popular. Minneapolis has made much progress in increasing the amount of bikers on the road, but the city is still far behind many major cities in other countries. I am proud that my city is bike friendly, but this news also makes me laugh. Minneapolis is one of the coldest cities in the USA, and in winter the streets are full of ice and snow. This weather does not often encourage people to go outside and ride their bikes. Some brave people still bike in the cold, but many only bike during the spring and summer months.

The Church should Promote Sustainability

I attend Grace University Lutheran Church. The church is making good efforts to act sustainably. We recycle the worship bulletins every Sunday after the service. On Sundays, the bike racks outside of church are usually full, as many church members bike to Sunday services. The church is also planning to expand the building. As plans are formed, one priority area is to make sure that it is constructed with sustainability in mind. Recycled materials, energy-efficient lighting techniques and solar panels are among the ideas that have been discussed. I think it is important that churches are leaders in sustainable practices. As Christians, we value God’s creation, and this should be reflected in church functions. If the church makes this a priority, then church members will follow the example.

After the LWF youth named environmental sustainability among the top priorities of the Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, I vowed to change some of my habits in order to live a more environmentally friendly life. I now take the bus to work several days per week. My commute is a bit longer but I have time to read and relax on my way to work. This is good for the environment, and good for the brain. It has been a positive change.

I come from a land full of wealth and resources. In North America, people know about the earth’s needs worldwide, but often do not work towards change. We need to stop acting selfishly, and start making choices that benefit everyone. As Christians, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of God’s earth. A friend once wrote to me, “Christians can take a long view of life, and that’s part of what keeps us going.” If we are truly taking a long view of life, we will continue advocating environmental change for the future and for all the saints to come.

Allison Beebe (born 1988), graduated in Global Studies from the University of Minnesota, USA. She was a steward at the 2010 Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Stuttgart, Germany.

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