Sometimes I get scoffed at for altering my lifestyle to be more climate friendly. Why should I change my lifestyle to only make a minuscule impact on a global issue that can really only be solved by a total restructuring of our businesses and governments?
Yes, my impact, in the grand scheme of things, is tiny. Yes, I’m not solving the issue on my own. Yes, I know that governments and businesses have a much bigger role to play in this issue than I do. But does that mean I should throw in the towel and stop trying? I don’t think so.
It’s an ethical responsibility.
Climate change is leading to the destruction of ecosystems and the deaths of people worldwide, and it all started because of our current way of living. Our profit-hungry businesses, environmentally reckless governments and meat-rich diets have lead the planet into an ecological disaster. If I exist within this system and am privileged enough to make changes and make my voice heard, but I choose not to, am I not remaining complacent in the disaster? Just because my impact, whether good or bad, is small, it doesn’t make it ethically right to remain complacent. If I am privileged enough to make a positive impact, no matter how tiny, I should view that as an ethical responsibility. Nothing gives me the right to eat burgers and buy fast fashion, two unethical and environmentally irresponsible practices, just because my impact in avoiding those practices is small, if I have the means to avoid said practices.
Think about other practices that are widely accepted to be unethical- lying, cheating, stealing. If you engage in these behaviors it still makes them unethical, even if it was done on a small scale.
Changes gain power over time.
Avoiding a $5 fast fashion t-shirt today could lead to avoiding hundreds in my lifetime. Choosing to go vegan just once a week adds up to 52 days in a year, leading to the aversion of nearly 1,000 pounds of CO2. Keep the habit up for several years, and you’re making a big impact. While our impact of our lifestyles on a day to day basis is small, when these changes are sustained over months and years, their impact can become huge. You shouldn’t get discouraged about the minuscule impacts your sustainable lifestyle has on the daily- you should be inspired by how your impact will compound over time.
Power comes in groups, and those groups start with individuals.
If I boycott a business or a product because of its impact on the environment, I am not doing much in the way of altering that business’s demand. They will still have thousands of other customers supporting them, so losing my business isn’t that detrimental. However, if I boycott a business, tell my friends and family why, and they get inspired to do the same, I am creating a ripple effect. My friends and family will start boycotting the business and telling their friends and family to do the same, and before you know it, the business has lost thousands of customers- an impact on their demand they will notice.
This same principle applies to going vegan, using a metal straw, bringing a reusable coffee cup, or protesting. These movements of adopting environmentally-friendly behaviors all start with one person adopting the mindset of making change, and they then inspire others to do the same.
In fact, mindset is everything. When we make these small changes in our daily life, we’re sending a greater message to governments and businesses that we are ready and willing to change for the sake of the environment. On a collective scale, our voices and dollars have power. Businesses want to make money, and will slowly but surely start becoming more environmentally and ethically sustainable if they start to lose demand and business on a large, collective scale- a collective scale that starts with the actions of one individual like yourself.
It’s analogous to voting. A lot of people choose not to vote because they don’t think their vote matters. But, it’s the collection of individual votes that makes them powerful and that can bring environmentally-minded people into government, and this collection cannot happen without the initial action taken by individuals.
Think of activists like Greta Thunberg. Her impact around the world in terms of climate action and protesting has been huge, and it all started with her small, individual action of sitting outside Swedish parliament. Even though her initial impact was minuscule, through inspiring people and being committed to change, her impact on the movement has grown over time to become a massive force.
is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.