Sometimes I look at the enormity of the world’s problems, especially the last couple of years, and it seems there’s little any individual can do to change things. But many of you know I’m passionate about challenging the status quo. And when I doubt my own ability to change things, I remember this wonderful quote from the Dalai Lama:
If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how each and every one of us can make a difference to the impending environmental catastrophe we can no longer ignore. I guess it all starts with BELIEVING we all CAN make a difference.
Three things meant my experience of the world shifted.
First, I watched a brilliant but shocking documentary called Drowning In Plastic. I used to do voluntary PR for the Close the Door campaign. I’m environmentally aware and recycle. I turn off lights, keep heating down and take my own bags to the supermarket. But this documentary showed these efforts alone simply won’t shift the needle on this potentially catastrophic issue.
When pieces of plastic are found in the Arctic, in the stomachs of baby birds on a remote South Pacific island (on average 30 to 40 pieces in each) and traces of it in every mussel available for sale, you can’t ignore we have a massive problem. 8 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year.
Recycling just isn’t enough. We need to stop making more plastic, reuse what we have and find something else to do the same job. There is too much plastic to recycle anyway and only 9% of total plastic ever is. Yes, 91% of the world’s plastic is NOT recycled!
Second, I watched another excellent and similarly shocking documentary called Fashion’s Dirty Secrets which showed explicitly why the fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry on the planet.
Let’s take a moment there in case you missed that figure – the SECOND. I had no idea! As the presenter Stacey Dooley says: “ I feel like we understand what plastic does to the Earth but I had no idea what cotton was capable of.”
Almost an entire inland sea has disappeared (the Aral, to feed cotton production) and Indonesian rivers fizz and steam with textile processing chemicals while people wash their clothes and children swim. All to satisfy our insatiable desire for more and more fast fashion. There is a price to pay for all clothing. But that price is highest when the clothing is cheap.
Finally, at the beginning of last week we had the landmark report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) saying urgent and unprecedented change is needed to keep the global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5C.
Just half a degree beyond that will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Even 1.5C will have a dramatic impact on how we all live.
So all this coming together meant a definite shift for me. I’ve decided I need to step up and make a difference. My personal impact may be small, but if we ALL do something, the difference could be huge.
Here are some of the ways you can help:
- Buy less clothing, especially cotton – do you really need it?
- Air-dry your clothes rather than using a dryer (I have a traditional pulley laundry drying rack like this.)
- Refuse single use plastics when you can – cups, cutlery, straws, cotton buds etc.
- Stop buying water in plastic bottles – refill a bottle from the tap and take it with you (1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world)
- Walk or use a bike for short distances (consider an electric car)
- Eat less meat and dairy – those contribute massively to global warming (and research suggests cutting down on animal protein is good for our health too)
- Eat more seasonal, locally sourced food – and throw less of it away
- Insulate your home and don’t waste energy
- Use Skype rather than travelling for a meeting
- Demand a low carbon footprint for every consumer product
- Join a community cleanup or go plogging!
And please go watch those documentaries if you’re in the UK or have access to a good VPN. They’re well worth your time.
Will you join me? Tell me in the comments what you’re going to do to make a difference.
And always remember that mosquito.