Some people reacted with - I am a mother; I so get that level of frustration. Others said - Seriously? Will this anger really help?
I have done some reading and thinking since I posted the letter, and I can empathize with both positions. I am a mother of two amazing children - in spite of their amazing-ness, there have been times when I have felt beyond frustrated with their behaviors and choices, and when I probably did not speak to them in a particularly loving way. And yet - I am the mother of two amazing children - and when I have expressed my frustration to them in a less than loving way, it has almost always gone badly. It has seldom resulted in the desired response - "Oh, yes, mother dear! I goofed! I am so sorry and I will never do it again." The more typical result of an attempt to parent via anger, shame, and guilt has been that the focus shifts from what the child could possibly learn and do differently to dealing with the icky crap that comes with angry outbursts.
I have learned over the years that parenting or teaching by anger, humiliation, shame, or guilt does not work - and that doing so poisons the relationship that is so essential for growth to happen. So I can totally see that the letter from an angry mother earth might result in shut-down by its readers - a closing down to the important seed of truth and wisdom that is buried deep within the diatribe. The result of reading the letter may not be the desired - Wow! I never thought of this! I am going to clean up my act right away and compost, recycle, be thoughtful about consumption, and write my representatives! It may more likely be anger in return, denial, and distance - certainly not thinking it through and considering changes.
Research may shed some light on this. Studies that investigate the effects of having someone complete a carbon footprint assessment (which provides feedback about how "green" the person is in daily living) yield interesting results. Briefly, for participants who already identify themselves as being sensitive to environmental issues, knowing the carbon footprint may reinforce already existing good habits or lead to additional positive changes. For participants who do not identify themselves as environmentalists, the outcome may be the opposite - no positive change and perhaps even a decrease in environmental concern (for further reading, see Vess and Arndt, 2008, and Brook, 2011, under Resources). Why might this be so? It is no doubt complicated - and yet, it may also be as simple as thinking about how any of us feel when we learn that we are not doing something we should be doing, or that we are screwing up - even if this isn't done in an angry way.
We are human - which means that, sometimes, our response to such feedback is resistance and defensiveness - which certainly does not help our cause.
One area of research that might be adapted for the purposes of understanding all of this is the area related to stages of change and motivation. Have you ever tried to make a significant behavioral change in daily living - to lose weight, to stop smoking, to drink less alcohol? Most of us who make these attempts go through steps of increasing readiness prior to actually making and maintaining the change - I will talk more about this later.
What is important about this line of study is that there is greater success in change when we can meet people where they are in their readiness to change - when we can accept that they are not yet ready to act differently, but that they are at least contemplating doing so. When we can accept them at that pre-change stage, then we can help them take baby steps toward an actual behavioral change. We do this from a place of openness, support, curiosity, and acceptance - not from anger and judgment. I wonder what this might mean in terms of talking with people about environmental issues? What do you think?