Do individual efforts matter?
When it comes to climate change, do individual efforts matter? This is something I ponder upon every time I do something positive for our planet. And every time, I come to the same conclusion – yes, they do!
There is a school of thought that believes in entirely blaming big oil and fossil fuel giants for climate change. This thought is valid, but only to a certain extent. We tend to demand systemic change but let’s not forget that the system is made up of individuals like you and me. Thus, behavioural change at both levels becomes vital.
If we look at it, we do share 50% of the blame. I say this because we have been, and continue consuming more than we need. We fall prey to the marketing gimmicks and end up buying stuff we can totally do without. Guilty as charged!
Excess of anything results in its overuse. We overconsume food, fashion, electricity, water, private vehicles, and whatnot! To sustain our lifestyles, we now need about 1.8 earths. It this habit to overconsume one of the culprits ruining the balance of our planet. Don’t you agree?
We have been taught through our formal education why we must protect the sanctity of our natural world and the environment. Yet, we haven’t learned anything and continue to exploit. Not to be cynical but every human being plays a villainous part in some or the other way. From an unbothered politician, a careless brand, an ignorant contractor, a banking model that funds planet-destroying mining firms, to a layman refusing to give up plastic, etc. We cannot just blame our leaders and not do anything ourselves. Governments will impose countless regulations, but those won’t help unless citizens show genuine support and follow protocols.
How do individual efforts matter?
As we march towards a sustainable world, there are two possible pathways. One is to reduce our ecological footprint. This is achievable with pro-active governance on both national and international levels to put an end to further exploitation of our natural and conserve what’s left.
The other pathway is to increase the ecological capacity of our world, which is possible with our participation. Let me give you an example. We have long endured the use-and-throw culture in our lives, which has led to a tremendous amount of waste. We have created so much trash that we have not only disturbed the ecosystem on land but also that of our water bodies. But how are we tackling this problem? By simply installing units such as ‘sewage treatment plants,’ the STPs. This is known as an end-of-pipe solution. But instead of an STP, what if we stop letting waste into our rivers and seas in the first place? Wouldn’t that help keep our water bodies healthy? Wouldn’t it reduce the spending of a tax payer’s money?
It isn’t simply about installing an STP, it is about every form of waste we create. If we’ll be mindful enough to control what we discard as waste from our homes, we can contribute in increasing the ecological capacity of our planet. The first week of Covid lockdown is an excellent example. We stopped creating pollution through our cars and factories, and boom! Air became cleaner and skies clearer. Just imagine what we can achieve if we implement deliberate and immediate measures.
We as citizens hold two big assets to make change happen. The first one is our ability to vote. The leader we vote for isn’t just responsible for developing our economy. We need to realise that our leader has to be conscious enough to develop a nation’s ecological capacity and quality of life for its citizen, alongside the economy. So when a government turns out to be incompetent, we share the blame.
The second asset we hold is the ability to vote with our wallets. As more and more individuals are going green, we now have brands coming up with sustainable alternatives. We are seeing this change happen. I do not need statistics to support this (in case you’re not convinced, check out this report by the WWF). Every time you purchase an eco-friendly service/product, you are voting with your wallet. So you see, what we chose to buy, changes the market. A change in the market helps in transitioning to a more sustainable society.
I understand that it would be complete ignorance at my end if I do not address the problem of equity in our society. Not everyone has the privilege of voting with their wallets. But this is not a problem with no solution. It is the responsibility of our authorities to provide every citizen with equitable access to resources. An equal starting point for each human makes development easier, again drawing attention to the importance of voting.
Today, multiple instances show how citizen action drives change. It was evident when the Dutch government sued Royal Dutch Shell. It is evident with the Riverfront development project in Pune kept on hold. It is evident with the price of a bamboo toothbrush coming down from once ₹150 to now ₹50! It is evident with countless options for vegans of today. It is evident with a brand like H&M, after receiving a lot of backlash, introducing “sustainable” clothing line. There are many more such instances.
So do individual efforts matter? Hell yeah! Perhaps the only differentiating factor is that the pace of change might be slow. But it is of value. The onus should not be on the government, nor should it be on individuals. It has to be a partnership.
Behavioural change has to be at both levels. Only a well-informed, aware, and educated person can take mindful decisions for his citizens and the planet. Similarly, only a well-informed, aware, and educated citizen will make mindful choices that support sustainability.
In conclusion, read this out loud: INDIVIDUAL EFFORTS MATTER! Never believe otherwise.