Mark S. Meisner “Consciousness Raising,” in Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices, Vol. 1, Ed. Debra Rowe, pp.155-158. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2014.
“As a strategy for social change, consciousness raising can be defined as a form of communication or any activity aimed at increasing people’s awareness of specific conditions and/or ways to address them. In the sustainability context, this means raising awareness about social and environmental issues and problems, as well as about sustainable alternatives. For example, consciousness raising can mean educating people about the risks of biocides and the industrial food system as well as promoting local organic agriculture as an alternative. Either way, the purpose is to get the broader public interested in the cause and then engaged in doing something about it. Consciousness raising is thus a crucial first step in solving social problems….”
When things start to look like they are going down the toilet and there is no obvious way out, what do you do?
In the BBC TV series Twenty-Twelve, the fictional Head of Deliverance for the London 2012 olympics, Ian Fletcher, always finds something positive in the situation and a new angle from which to approach the issue. And then he wraps up the conversation with the line “So it’s all good then.” At that point, everyone gets back to work.
And so it is in the world of environmental affairs. No matter how bad things seem, there is no point giving up or assuming that nothing can be done. If someone is going to do that, they may as well stay home. Pessimism is as useful as the oil “dispersant” Corexit was to the Gulf of Mexico: better left in the bottle.
Similarly, simply passively hoping that environmental issues will work themselves out serves no useful purpose. Optimism in this context allows people to feel better enough to rationalize ignoring reality. That too is like Corexit: pour on some optimism and hope the mess goes away.
We can’t sit back and expect someone else to “fix” things any more than we can indulge ourselves in despair.
Face it, the future is unpredictable. There is no way to anticipate all of the changes that are coming. As poet Paul Valery is reported to have said, “The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.”
But we can help to create the future, or at least try to. And in order to do that, we need to be realistic (i.e. knowledgeable, not rigidly ideological) about our situation. We also need a positive attitude (not the same as optimism) towards the work, and good critical thinking skills. We have to look at things afresh, figure out another way and then lean in and try something. There are still so many positive choices available to us.
To quote environmental thinker David Orr in his book Hope is an Imperative:
Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. In contrast to optimism or despair, hope requires that one actually do something to improve the world. Authentic hope comes with an imperative to act.