Last Christmas season, some residents of my town decided to celebrate by partying and lighting bonfires. Surely, there must be something delightful and relaxing about the sight and sound of crackling flames licking around a pile of wood on a chilling harmattan night, under a moon of dazzling brightness. Since they wanted the fires to run for several hours through the night, they sourced the hardest and densest wood, which required chopping down large chunks of trees.
Several weeks before their big night, I watched from my bedroom window in helpless dismay as some men thumped at a neem tree down the street. Armed with sharp-bladed cutlasses and a chainsaw, they put themselves in precarious positions just to get the job done. The boughs of that tree so laden with blossom came smashing into the dusty ground in a heart-rending thud. The satisfaction on their faces and the effort they exerted to execute what must have been a cumbersome exercise was worrisome to me. In a flash, I thought about the many times those very branches had provided respite from the unbearably torrid midday heat while walking along that road, the children in the neighborhood who loved to play under that tree, and the conversations that were had there when people just wanted to meet outdoors. Now what is left of that tree has taken on a new identity as it stands there meaningless — the decades of memories it once held burnt on a bonfire night.
I kept an ear to the ground for a long time after, hoping that others shared the same concerns and it would ignite a conversation in the community about deforestation. But everyone went about their business as usual because indiscriminate tree felling, usually by loggers for fuel wood and charcoal, is so common here in Nigeria with hardly any regulatory policy or enforcement.
Addressing environmental problems in your local community can be difficult, but it’s worth our time and attention. Change may start on the individual level, but it requires collective effort — everyone has to be cooperative for any success to be achieved. That is why lately, I’ve been trying to create awareness in my community about the negative effects of cutting down trees. If you’re thinking about how to convince people living around you to better care for the environment, here’s how to approach it:
Engage in door-to-door sensitization by explaining the problem to people
The power of dialogue cannot be overstated. Many people may not be as informed as you are about the grave implications of their routine activities on the environment. This is especially so if you live in a less-privileged society like mine where many simply do not understand the need for the conservation of the environment.
I find that a lot of people are more willing to modify their attitude toward the planet once they have better knowledge of how caring for the environment is directly beneficial to them. Therefore, my conversations with neighbors are centered on how it affects the individual personally in a concrete sense, rather than just giving them an abstract lecture about how their habits affect the globe. While the global impact of small actions is real, a broad perspective isn’t always as effective as a personal one when starting a conversation.
For instance, in speaking to someone about tree felling, I tried to make him see how the tree that had been removed close to where he lived meant more water could then flow through to the front of his house, potentially flooding the area and eroding the soil around his house. I was glad that he left that conversation better understanding how trees and their roots provided cover from wind and served as anchors that prevented rainwater from sweeping the land on which his house stood. As a matter of fact, he was eager to plant more trees in order to prevent his land from exposure and vulnerability to the elements!
Involve leaders in the community
Your dialogue efforts will be more effective if you’re able to convince influential people in your community to participate and get them talking to others about environmental stories and issues. They may be well-known community figures, business and religious leaders, civil society organizations, or people in the media. Due to their proximity to the community, radio stations particularly can be employed to constantly disseminate information that reminds people about their duty to the earth. Local leaders play a pivotal role in any community program and will help amplify the message since people listen to them.
This community-level approach accords with the principle of subsidiarity as enunciated by Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891. It says that social problems should be resolved on more local levels first. Therefore, the community should always take action on issues relating to the environment insofar as the objectives are better achieved by the community. That said, it is my opinion that while the community must have priority of action, environmental issues shouldn’t be left to local authorities alone because they threaten the future of the entire planet. Since we all share the same earth collectively as a common home, we are partners with one another in preserving its gifts.
Suggest alternative solutions
It’s always best to follow up on an issue you’ve highlighted with a solution as this makes it easier for those you speak with to work with you. This point requires understanding the need driving their attitude toward the environment. This means that the solution you proffer to a person plundering the earth for wood will depend on the purpose for which they’re cutting. In my locality, a lot of the trees cut are utilized for cooking and heating. Consequently, the solution I present is to encourage the use of alternative forms of cleaner energy for cooking and heating such as electricity or gas. If you’re able to come up with a solution specific to an individual’s circumstance that they hadn’t thought about, that’ll make it even easier to have them on your side.
Whenever I talk to people, I advocate for the defense of our habitat, whether that be by reforestation or less consumerism — we want to leave more, rather than take more. I try to get them to be more deliberate about greener living by reducing the consumption of things that require natural resources. Safeguarding the environment can be a herculean task when others around you seem not to care. However, there is a way to approach the matter in a manner that is beneficial to all.