Breaking up is hard to do

Understanding the roots of resistance to change makes progress more likely

Kirk Weinert
Nov 15 · 3 min read

I really, really, really want to cancel my home delivery of the Denver Post newspaper.

I can’t justify the environmental costs of the ink, paper, printing machines and the paper’s transportation to my porch. I can still get all of the Post’s local news, sports coverage, comics and crossword puzzles online for $18.34 less per month. And I’d relieve my wife of the need to remind me to take out the recycling bin so often.

But I haven’t been able to do it. It feels like I’d be signing a death warrant for an old friend.

I’m sharing this angst to remind environmental activists (myself included) how painful it can be for people — especially those of us who are no longer young — to give up long-time environmentally-unfriendly habits, no matter how obvious the tradeoffs are.

Breaking up really is hard to do. The more we recognize that, the more likely we are to craft proposals that can win enough support to be enacted and to make progress on issues we care about.

Conversely, the more we shut our minds to others’ distress, the more likely we are to continue experiencing the debilitating gridlock that has crippled our society’s ability to adapt and respond to changing times.

For a relatively trivial example, take my lifelong addiction to newspapers.

According to my parents, I started learning to read when I was three years old by trying to make sense of my hometown paper’s comics section. Some of my strongest childhood memories are reading the morning paper with my mother and the evening paper with my father.

When I went to college, I read the Boston Globe, New York Times and Wall Street Journal from front page to back every day, along with several weekly papers. I spent 30–40 hours a week working on the student newspaper, doing everything from writing to driving the final copy to the printer in a blizzard. And when I started working for The Public Interest Network and had less time for media, I learned the fine art of reading while walking, without running into people or light poles.

For 40-some years, my day has usually been kick-started by checking out headlines on a newspaper’s Page One.

So, it was with no small fear of dislocation that I went to the Denver Post’s circulation website to consider canceling home delivery.

Knowing that my action — combined with many other cancellations — will result in loggers, paper mill workers, printers, ink makers and delivery girls and boys losing their jobs makes it more painful. So does the thought of my increased use of my smartphone and laptop which, despite the solar panels on our roof, still get about 15 percent of their power from fossil fuel-generated electricity.

My rational brain tells me that, as even newspaper writers have long admitted, getting news via the Internet is environmentally superior to delivered newspapers — even if one religiously recycles.

And the fact that home delivery of the Denver Post costs $220 per year more than a digital subscription is a sure sign I’ve been paying for a lot of stuff I don’t really need.

But inertia is a powerful force. (The Post understands that well. I can’t cancel the service via their website; I have to do so via a phone call.)

It’s hard to bid farewell to the familiar sensation of a broadsheet in my hands; to say goodbye to the smell of wet newsprint and scrubbing ink off my hands; and to give up the joy of my daughter tossing the rolled-up paper to me in bed while I’m still waking up.

Of course, giving up a print newspaper is small potatoes compared to the changes we all need to make to protect our environment and our health.

That’s why it’s good to keep in mind the difficulty of taking this one small step, when preparing for campaigns asking for far bigger changes — much less fending off the wild and crazy allegations made by our opponents.

Now, about that plane flight to Europe I’ve been thinking about…

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The Public Interest Network runs organizations committed to our vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done.

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