Can small changes make a difference to our environment?

Can small changes make a difference to our environment?

Are individual actions making a difference?

Since I’ve started talking more about living a more environmentally friendly and low waste lifestyle, I have noticed I get three main reactions:

  1. “Good on you – tell me more, and let me tell you about my ideas too”,
  2. “Wow, you are really passionate about this” (and I suspect they are thinking “you are a bit of a crazy hippie”),
  3. What is the point of you doing all these small things and making sacrifices in your lifestyle, when it won’t make a difference overall?”.

The first two reactions are welcome and fun, even if people think I’m a hippie. It’s still supportive, and they are usually keen to talk about these ideas.

The third reaction

The third reaction is common. I’ve had this reaction from a range of people of different ages, backgrounds, genders, and other factors.

They tend to say something like: ‘what is the point of trying, as the big corporations are the biggest polluters? Until they stop what they are doing, what’s the point in people taking individual action’.

People also say ‘but you drive a petrol car / eat meat and drink milk / fly overseas / have created building waste when you renovated your house, so you are not perfect’.

Can I make a difference on my own?

I might not be able to stop companies producing bottled water, or stop deforestation, or stop oil companies continuing to sell petrol, all on my own, but…

I am not doing this on my own.

There are so many people who feel the same way I do about living in a more environmentally friendly way. Lots of people, doing small things, can add up to making a difference.

I’m in a few ‘zero waste’ Facebook groups, some of them with hundreds of thousands of members worldwide. All these people are doing small things everyday to reduce waste, and reduce their impact on the environment.

Photo credit: Kevin Russ

Then there are all the people don’t label themselves ‘zero waste’ people, but who are still doing amazing things for the world. People who are:

  • growing some of their own fruit and veges,
  • walking or cycling sometimes instead of always taking the car,
  • taking part in tree planting events,
  • business owners making products and packaging in more environmentally friendly ways,
  • carefully recycling (I know recycling isn’t the first answer to the problem of waste, but it can help reduce waste to landfill, and recover useful resources that we could avoid wasting).

All these actions have an impact, and are making a difference. Even if people don’t align themselves to a ‘movement’, this is just what they do in their normal lives.

These actions can inspire other people to do similar things too. When people see an idea they like and that works for them, they can give it a try too.

I think this is true particularly for actions that can save you money and time, as so many people feel that they are short on both.

Quote from Jane Goodall, primatologist, anthropologist and environmentalist

What is the alternative?

When people say ‘we are stuck in a capitalist society, that values profit over the environment, and there isn’t much you can do about it’, that can be pretty disheartening.

However, if we all took that approach, then nothing would ever change in our societies. This is obviously not true, as so many accepted ideas have changed over time, through the action of regular people like me and you.

Once upon a time, everyone smoked in homes and offices (even on airplanes), petrol and paint had lead in them, and CFCs were used in refrigerators and air conditioning units. As more information and scientific research showed that these things were not great for people or planet, changes were made (eventually). It took some fighting, but things did change.

I believe that attitudes to our current environmental problems, such as excessive waste and pollution, are changing, through the action of groups and individuals making a difference.

Quote by Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist

What is the alternative for people like me who feel like we need to change? I can’t carry on doing the things I was doing, knowing that I am causing more problems for the earth.

I’m not perfect – I do drive a car, and eat meat (not as much as I used to) and do create waste through buying unnecessary or short lived things sometimes. I do have children and pets, and we are as a family contributing to environmental problems, I know this.

But, I can’t accept that the problem is too big, or that it is not my problem to fix. I will do the things I can do, and encourage and support others to take action too. The alternative is to resign myself to a ruined world, without attempting to contribute to the solutions.

Maybe I’m idealist and unrealistic, and I’m kidding myself am making a difference. But I have to try, and I encourage you to try too.

Resources for making a difference

One of the things you can do to overcome the feeling that you are not making a difference as an individual, is to sign up to actions through groups like 1 Million Women or Greenpeace

The New Zealand Ministry for the Environment has a list of actions you can take on climate change that are practical for people to do in their everyday life.

A great article from Planet Watch talks about the power of individuals making a difference.