Whether you’ve been on a green lifestyle path for a while or whether you’re just getting started, one of the objections you’re most likely to encounter (from other people, from within yourself, or both) is, “What’s the point? Why bother?”
This objection has multiple components. One, a hopeless feeling: Big companies and big government are wreaking all the damage; why should I as an individual bother, when my efforts aren’t even a drop in the bucket?
And two, more of a self-righteous take: “They” are the ones doing the damage; why should *I* be the one making the sacrifice?
Regarding sacrifice: If your green efforts feel like drudge or sacrifice, you’re either trying to do too much, or you’re doing it wrong (by which I mean doing things that aren’t right for your circumstances), or both. In this blog and in my DEEP GREEN book, I show you how to reduce your footprint in a manner that takes into account your needs and circumstances. My purpose is to show you how to go green while gaining personal benefits. The idea of sacrifice, eco-martyrdom and all that, goes out the window. It’s not workable. ‘Bye!
Regarding “the bad guys doing the damage,” no one acts alone. Those companies making all the environmentally damaging products and services — who’s buying those products and services? The advertisers touting them — whose eyes and ears are tuning in? And as for government policy — What is it but a reflection of our collective will? If your will doesn’t happen to be in the majority, so be it — and don’t let that stop you from doing what you know is the right thing. Doing the right thing brings its own rewards, not the least of which you’ll sleep better and have more zest for life.
Regarding “drop in a bucket,” try that argument on WalMart, a billion-dollar empire that built its success on millions of low-income consumers. Your efforts alone may not make a difference, but you are never acting alone. Also, your efforts are more than just the pure numeric measure of what you are doing. Besides cutting your consumption of something environmentally harmful by a given amount (or increasing your consumption of something environmentally beneficial by a given amount), you are also influencing the people around you by example, even if you never say a word about it. People are imitators; it’s how a trickle turns into a trend turns into a widespread craze.
By the way, just how much loss do you think a company has to see in its profit margin to take notice and make a change? Or how much of an increase in demand does a market have to see in order to attract new participants? I don’t know but I’d guess the percentage is pretty small. How much loss, percentage-wise, in your paycheck would it take for you to notice a pinch? Companies probably aren’t much different.
If those arguments don’t persuade you, I offer what I’ve heard referred to as the “THEORY OF ANYWAY.” Reducing your footprint and making other green changes is something you’d want to be doing anyway, for a variety of reasons, regardless of whether eco-disaster is imminent. Sharon Astyk, co-founder of the Riot for Austerity and author of several books on sustainable homesteading and low-footprint living, puts forth the most eloquent argument I’ve heard on this subject. Go here for the full article; here’s an excerpt:
“So if you told me that tomorrow, peak oil had been resolved, I’d still keep gardening, hanging my laundry, cutting back and trying to find a way to make do with less. Because even if we found enough oil to power our society for a thousand years, there would still be climate change, and it would be *wrong* of me to choose my own convenience over the security and safety of my children and other people’s children. And if you told me tomorrow that we’d fixed climate change, that we could power our lives forever with renewables, I would still keep gardening and living frugally. Because our agriculture is premised on depleted soil and aquifers, and we’re facing a future in which many people don’t have enough food and water if we keep eating this way, and to allow that to happen would be a betrayal of what I believe is right. And if you told me that we’d fixed that problem too, that we were no longer depleting our aquifers and expanding the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, I’d still keep gardening and telling others to do the same, because our reliance on food from other nations, and our economy impoverishes and starves millions, even billions of poor people and creates massive economic inequities that do tremendous harm. And if you told me that globalization was over, and that we were going to create a just economic system, and we’d fixed all the other problems, and that I didn’t have to worry anymore, would I then stop gardening?”
If you don’t see yourself as the kind of person who can make a positive difference, consider the possibility that there is a set of behaviors common to people who are making a difference. Kathy Caprino’s article in the Huffington Post outlines behaviors that you (anyone) can cultivate.
Another suggestion: Google a phrase of your choosing, regarding making a difference. (I used “everyday people making a difference” or “small numbers of people making a difference in the world.”) If you truly want to believe you can make a difference with your small actions, you’ll find the evidence. If you deep down want to hang on to the self-defeating idea that you cannot make a difference through your small actions, and that instead you have to wait for government or corporations to get their act together, then you will find ample evidence of that viewpoint also, and nothing I can say will convince you otherwise.
But you’re probably in the former category, people who want to believe their small everyday actions can make a difference. In which case you’ve come to the right place, because I’m here to help you do that.
One more on making a difference: How one man repopulated a rare butterfly species in his own backyard.