You have risen. All around the world, you are protesting and demanding governments to act in order to combat climate change. Not only is it inspiring but also demonstrates that you are fully aware of what is happening to our planet and that gives hope. So far, so good. But there is one major problem – the shift of responsibility that comes with it. The movement is based on the premise that the responsibility for change lies with the government and that, is a fallacy. The responsibility for change has – and will always – lie with us, the people.
Greta Thunberg is an admirable young woman that deserves every bit of attention and respect that she is being given and the same goes for her fellow protesters. In fact, to the older generations, the story of Great Thunberg may sound familiar. That’s because it is not the first time an adolescent has stepped up and spoken out. Severn Cullis-Suzuki did just that at the Rio Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) in 1992 and, would technology have been where it is today, she would have gone viral without a doubt. So why weren’t the problems already fixed back in 1992? Because there wasn’t enough pressure on the governments back then. The internet and social media may have increased pressure on the governments, but we shouldn’t rely on them to address the problems. Not now, not ever. The sad reality is, our governments haven’t fixed it up until now and probably won’t fix it within a reasonable period. Why? Because they’re slow and sadly all too often under the spell of industries. Call it corruption, call it lobbying, call it campaign donations, it’s all the same. The Paris Agreement with its insufficient goals is the latest proof of that. While it is – and remains – important to keep up the pressure on governments, that alone is clearly not enough.
Who will fix it then?
I’m not here to tell you that all is doom and gloom however, quite the contrary, I’m here to tell you that we have never relied on the governments to improve conditions in the first place! One of my favorite speeches is Charlie Chaplin’s final one from The Great Dictator, and if you’ve never seen it, watch it – now. Though it was in reference to dictatorships, it applies to our current climate crisis just as well: “You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness, you the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure, then in the name of democracy let us use that power, let us all unite, let us fight for a new world, a decent world […].”
So, what exactly are you saying?
I’m saying that you as an individual have the power to make change happen if you only try! And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you have to be the next Mahatma Gandhi either. All you have to do is start with something small and do it consistently. You as a consumer have all the power in the world. Your consumer and voting behaviors directly dictate the way corporations and governments act. Let me give you a couple of examples:
- You’re tired of plastic? Stop consuming it! If you don’t buy Coca Cola plastic bottles, they will stop producing them and look for alternatives. The same goes for any other corporation like Unilever, Nestlé, Pepsico, and so on.
- You can’t live without your Iced, Half Caff, Ristretto, Venti, 4-Pump, Sugar Free, Cinnamon, Dolce Soy Skinny Latte but are tired of the horrendous amounts of plastic Starbucks produces? Bring your own cup! You’ll even get a discount.
- Your favorite grocery store goes bananas on plastic packaging? Tell them! Let them know through a friendly letter to their digital suggestion box or start an online petition. Trader Joe’s – a major US grocery store chain – announced that they are taking steps this year to drastically reduce their plastic use. Why? Because customers told them so in an online petition! You can also check if there is a zero-waste grocery store in your town that lets you bring your own containers and buy food without packaging.
- You can’t believe your government doesn’t act upon climate change or doesn’t even believe in it? Stop voting for them! To quote Han Solo: “Stop giving power to people who don’t believe in science or worse than that, pretend they don’t believe in science for their own self-interest.”
- You don’t want to see orangutans lose their natural habitats? Stop buying products with palm oil in them and – again – tell the manufacturer of your favorite products to stop using it! I know a world without Nutella seems unbearable, but is it worth having Sumatra’s rainforest burn over it?
- Seeing the ground polar bears walk on literally melt away because of global warming breaks your heart? Take the bus instead of the car more often or reduce the number of times you fly per year. If that’s not possible, you can compensate your CO2 footprint by donating to non-profits such as myclimate that use your donations to support reforestation or projects whose work directly results in lower CO2 emissions.
The last thing I want to do is guilt trip you; that’s neither effective nor constructive. All I’m saying is that if you’re unhappy with the current state of affairs, you have the power to change it. Upon reading the above, those who know me will scream hypocrisy, and they would be right. I’m far from having a perfect score, but that’s not the point. Nobody expects you to be perfect in all these areas immediately. Start with any of the above, do it consistently, raise your standards step by step as you go and I can guarantee you that you’ll not only do better, but also feel much better. And to top it all off, it won’t go unnoticed and will encourage others around you to follow your example.
But don’t stop here.
Having a healthy environment isn’t for free – support a conservation project
There’s a hefty price tag attached to a healthy planet. Let’s take the example of a marine protected area (MPA). Assuming a government declares a reef a marine protected area, what now? The declaration of the MPA is just the first step and not worth the paper it is written on unless governments follow through with the second step which is the enforcement of it. This requires constant monitoring and patrolling which in turn requires personnel and the necessary infrastructure like boats, gasoline, diving gear, scientific equipment, etc., all of which has to be paid for by someone. At the same time, there’s this weird notion floating around however, that having a healthy environment is supposed to be for free. In other words, that the government or corporations should pay for it. This goes back to the shift of responsibility we already talked about. While this is at least arguable within national boarders (we do pay taxes after all), what about the conservation of areas outside of national borders? Yes, parts of it are paid by government grants, universities and corporate funding but the fact is that it’s not enough – not by a long shot. So, it’s up to us to cover the rest! Do your part and donate to one of the many conservation projects that are dependent on your financial help. I know the idea of donating $100 a year to a project may sound painful but if you put it into perspective, that’s less than 30 cents a day! Just skip your Iced, Half Caff, Ristretto, Venti, 4-Pump, Sugar Free, Cinnamon, Dolce Soy Skinny Latte once a week and you’re all set!
Start your own initiative or volunteer for a conservation project
What I’ve learned working for Hydroheart is that change usually starts locally, with ordinary citizens that see a need for action and just go for it. Most of our partner projects started out with just a handful of people and over time have grown into locally important initiatives with a significant positive impact on the environment. I want to encourage you to do the same! However small your actions, they matter. How about organizing a cleanup with your friends on a Saturday or start planting trees around your town? There are also countless conservation projects desperately looking for volunteers. Why not spend your summer break restoring coral reefs or protecting turtles? Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
Go for it and ignore what’s holding you back
I know this seems like an unmanageable task and I know, it’s scary to take action. You may have wanted to join a conservation project a long time ago but then got stuck with your doubts. You may have asked yourself “What do I even have to contribute? They need professionals with skills and I don’t have any that are useful.” How do I know? Because I’ve gone through the same process. But let me tell you, there is plenty you have to offer and there are countless conservation projects that would be delighted to have you on board as a volunteer or a donor, even if it’s just a small amount! Ignore your inner voice of doubt and just go for it – a world full of new experiences, friends and stories to tell your grandkids awaits you! And one more thing, trust me when I tell you, there I is nothing that will give you more joy in life then helping the environment and others!
Let’s turn this thing around people, one person and one small action at a time!