Every little contribution makes a difference
By Caroline Ho, Assistant Editor
Individual effort can and does make an impact when it comes to saving the planet.
Yes, the giant, evil corporations are far larger contributors to the problems of pollution and resource depletion. Yes, a broader systemic change is needed to restructure humanity’s relationship to the Earth. However, we’re not going to get there if we don’t even try on an individual level.
I’m not saying you should feel guilty for not single-handedly overthrowing these multinational corporations. You shouldn’t feel personally responsible for the slow and steady suffocation of the planet. You should feel bad every time you buy individually-wrapped items because they’re 10 cents cheaper, or every time you throw something recyclable in the garbage because the recycling bin is too far away to bother.
In a lot of instances, the cost for opting to go the greener route is very low. There are so many tiny things you can do to reduce your ecological footprint, most of which are not that hard. For example, remembering to bring a reusable produce bag instead of picking up another plastic one, or keeping the heat two degrees lower and just throwing on another sweater instead—these take comparatively minimal effort and cause minimal inconvenience to your life.
Anecdotally, I once asked someone why they chose to throw a fruit peel into the garbage instead of the compost bin right beside it, and they responded that they were “too lazy.” If this is your reasoning, I invite you reevaluate how much you really value that pittance of time or that marginal level of comfort.
Some eco-friendly choices are of course a lot more of a commitment, such as going vegan or installing solar panels onto your roof. I understand that not everyone is capable of such a lifestyle change, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trim the waste-generating, resource-consuming fat where you can. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation; you don’t have to be a hardcore “environmentalist” to make some relatively painless, pro-environment choices.
Another, perhaps more compelling excuse I’ve heard is that individual contributions hardly matter, that our best individual efforts are just the teensiest drop in the ocean of capitalistic, environmentally exploitative greed that is giant corporate waste. However, according to the Conference Board of Canada, in 2012 Canadians generated an average of 720 kilograms of waste annually per capita. Even though residential waste makes up only about 38 percent of the total—with the rest produced by non-residential sources such as industrial and commercial activity—that still adds up to three-quarters of a kilogram of waste per person every day. To me that still sounds like a lot of garbage that we’re generating individually and that we can cut down on.
Your own choices may still pale in comparison to the grand scheme of things but collectively, we can make a huge difference. What better way to spread the mindset of environmental consciousness than through actions like recycling and buying the biodegradable option? On a small-scale level, your actions can influence others in subconscious ways. Your deliberate choice to bring your own reusable container to a restaurant, instead of resorting to foam take-out boxes, may well inspire someone else who had never considered the possibility. Explaining to someone why you take short showers may cause them to think twice next time they go to do the same. Every action helps to normalize a mentality of sustainability—a mentality we need if we’re going to change patterns of consumption on a larger level.
If enough of us go for the greener options, we can collectively send a signal to politicians and businesses about our desires. Each of us alone may not affect aggregate consumer demand but we do affect the people around us, who in turn affect the people around them, which in turn puts pressure on governments and businesses to provide more eco-friendly options and infrastructure.
Please don’t think that your efforts don’t change anything or that they’re not worth your time and energy. Everything matters, and nothing is too small. The attitude of “I can’t make an impact” spreads a mindset of apathy and implies to others that you don’t care enough to even take a few small, low-cost steps. Plus, if nothing else, holding onto the idea that my effort matters keeps your spirits up—and that optimism is what drives us to keep innovating for a greener future.