Dear Umbra,

Since you’re the closest thing to Miss Manners that the environmental community has, I’d like to ask for your etiquette advice.

I was recently on vacation with some friends and friends of friends and was disturbed by the lack of environmental awareness. For example: the 30-mile round-trips to get a takeout latte. Really. We were — relatively speaking — in the middle of nowhere, but apparently that was no reason to forgo one’s daily amenities.

I was desperate to say something along the lines of “Have you not heard of global warming?” but that seemed counterproductive. Any suggestions for an awareness-building, non-self-righteous, non-painfully-earnest, just-the-right-touch-of-humor approach?

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Portland, Ore.

Dearest Sophie,

Ouch. I feel your pain and have been in that situation: the rock of stupid vacation driving, the hard place of social ostracism.

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Chillin’ like a villain doesn’t have to
mean polluting like one.

Opting out of the latte trips yourself avoids but doesn’t solve the problem. We need to say something, just like we do when we witness prejudice or abuse. Fortunately, in cases of abuse and bigotry, we now have collective opinion on our side (mostly); unfortunately, stupid and unnecessary driving is still widely regarded as a God-given pleasure and right. Confronting vacationers is an Xtreme challenge, and you’re right, etiquette is the tool.

I am currently on busman’s holiday at a library where the only relevant etiquette books are Essential Manners for Men and The Guide to Good Manners for Kids, both from the Emily Post Institute. (Stay tuned for news of the Umbra Fisk Institute.) The man book outlines three rules of effective communication: clarity, coherence, and brevity (pg. 36). The kid book says to talk calmly, to listen, to let people know what’s bothering you, to try to work out a compromise, and to ask a family member for help if necessary (pg. 40). We can work with this very sound advice, though we are neither children nor men.

Think about what you want to say. What is the main point you wish to communicate, and how can you do so in a nonconfrontational, coherent, brief way? Do you have an “ask” — one request to the group to help you feel less alienated? It might even be wise to practice before you leave for the vacation, testing out your approach and getting yourself comfortable making it, first with your cat, then your friends, then your coworkers, and finally your vacation team. Start with a small part of the group, the people with whom you feel the least idiotic, and have a short talk with them. Tell them environmentalism is your passion and concern, not their obligation. If they do not relate to environmentalism, throw your favorite Gristmill elevator pitch, slow and easy over the plate. Solicit their advice and let them know what’s bothering you. Listen to their response. See if there is a “compromise” that will not make you barf. If it goes over with this small group, ask them for support in approaching the larger group.

You may have noticed that I had to research this answer just as I would any other. To be soul-baringly honest, there’s a reason I live and work alone in a basement, and it’s not because I’m comfortable confronting wasteful drivers. But for you, dear readers, I will rise to this very worthy challenge. Finding compelling ways to talk about environmentalism and finding the courage to do so are crucial to the movement’s success. I recognize my duty to further research persuasive speech. Stay tuned.