Several weeks ago, one of my acquaintances was feeling pretty low about the state of the environment. She said that it seemed as though all of the environmental news kept getting worse, and did our efforts actually have a positive influence at all? I've heard similar sentiments from other environmentally-conscious people I know. These are folks with their hearts in the right place who want to make a difference for future generations, but get discouraged at the overwhelming negative news.
Can one person really make a difference?
Yes, I can honestly say that one person CAN make a difference. I'm going to explore this question for a few posts to, I hope, encourage and inspire everyone to continue efforts to make a difference for their chosen causes. My primary concerns are wildlife & the environment, as well as the treatment of women & children worldwide. Your causes are probably different but the message is the same: one person can be a catalyst for positive changes.
Instead of profiling well-known motivators like Rachel Carson, Rev. Martin Luther king Jr., or the Dalai Lama, I'll focus on people who could easily be your neighbors - people like you and me who have decided to forward a cause and whose passion and persistence has made a difference.
Bicycle Shop Owner, Environmental Activist, Catalyst for Change
Let me introduce you first to a humble man from Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose quiet leadership has helped to spur positive change locally.
Pike's Peak looms over Old Town Bike Shop, owned by John Crandall. Although he looks 20 years younger, John is somewhere between 65 and 70 years old and has owned his shop since the early 70s. John is the neighbor we all wish we had: quiet, kind, accepting, energetic, logical, rational, positive, outspoken, encouraging, and inspiring.
His shop serves as an informal meeting place for like-minded, rational, environmentally-concerned citizens of this small city. One day I might find John speaking with a retired PhD chemist who was instrumental in having CFCs removed from aerosol propellants. Another time it's a congressional candidate who's also a retired USAF Captain, or perhaps a Native American healer, or even a recently-graduated college student who has convinced her new employer to remodel their offices to LEED standards (and helped them make it a reality). I know I'm not alone in having had many thought-provoking, insightful, and mind-bending discussions in John's shop while overlooking racks of shiny, new, road and mountain bikes.
John quietly influences the community through action, not through hateful rhetoric or fear. His was the first business in Colorado Springs to install PV panels because "it was the right thing to do," and he's happy to give tours of the installation to anyone interested. He leads by gently showing what's possible. Being able to back up his stance with logic and data doesn't hurt either.
He is also a tireless letter-writer whose well-researched content is an example for any of us who wish to influence others through our writing. John knows that emotional appeals don't consistently create positive change for the environment. Science, research, and data go much further in influencing thinking and action than do purely emotional appeals.
Another thing I admire in John is his unflagging example of patience and persistence. He knows that change is often measured in baby steps, and that patience and persistence will often "win" where fear-based appeals fail. He also knows and demonstrates that small changes over time do make a difference. After being quietly vocal about renewable energy for many years, and backing up his words with actions (installing the PV panels and choosing to have his electricity sourced 100% through renewable sources), one by one other businesses in Colorado Springs are beginning to follow his example.
Perhaps John's most important contribution to the community is in his encouragement and support of both individuals and local sustainability projects. John is a great sounding board, encouraging each person to make a difference and inspiring each of us to think beyond limitations or boundaries. He very willingly shares his experience, knowledge, lessons learned, and often personal contacts in order to make a project or an idea a success. He sponsors causes and events that further his environmental interests. And many times he has put me in touch with just the person I needed to speak with in order to finish a bit of research or make a decision on a project.
John and his business have been recognized locally and throughout the state of Colorado for lifetime achievement in Green Initiatives and Sustainability, but that's not why he does what he does. To him, making a difference AND helping others to make a difference are just the right things to do.