Can We Change Our Environmentally Damaging Habits?

For people that are concerned about the environment, it can be overwhelming to think of the problems that we humans face. Meat consumption is creating deadly methane gas which contributes to global warming, the plastic we throw away is dumped into the ocean creating ocean landfills, and the convenience of Keurig is trashing our planet with onetime use cups just to name a couple problems.

Thinking about the solutions to these from an individual standpoint isn’t all that hard. Eat less meat, use less plastic, and don’t use one time use coffee products, all of which sounds like fairly conventional wisdom. Yet many people (including myself) continue environmentally damaging practices. Maybe it’s convenience, a problem with capitalism, or the incentives of free riding. Regardless of how we diagnose the cause of these habits is there any way to break them?

Let’s think of a scenario. Do I bring a metal spoon to work or use a plastic one from the office closet? The tiny inconvenience of  having to pack my spoon, take it to work, and clean it after you use it will likely drive me to simply use the plastic spoon. But what if I thought to myself: “What if one thousand or even one million people made the decision I just made What effect would it have on the world?”

I find that asking myself this question has really given me the drive to help reshape how I go about my day to day life. I’m not a behavioral scientist so I doubt that this will persuade many to change ingrained, culturally enforced habits, but let’s give it a try. Instead of using a plastic water bottle I use a reusable one. Imagine if one million people decided to make that same decision, you’d save over 750,000 bottles from going into a landfill that day alone (because sadly the US only has about a 23% recycle rate for water bottles). If that seems unreasonable then let’s look at the individual. I use my water bottle and refill it 2 times a day. If I did that for even 100 or 150 days out of the year, I’d save myself from using around 300 plastic water bottles.

The point of this gets at that our habits shape the market and the world we live in. This argument doesn’t suggest that there aren’t greater forces at play here. Certainty there is much out of an individuals control when it comes to helping the environment: industry uses much more energy and water than consumers do (but it might be to satisfy our consumption habits). Without acknowledging that we are part of the problem, our world might not be sustainable. In an article by the BBC in 2015 it stated that if everyone on Earth consumed as much as an American did, we’d need four Earths to sustain that much consumption. Can we simply wait around and hope that the world changes around us without changing ourselves?

Maybe, “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a little over used, but in this case it works perfectly. Our small steps to make the world a better place can’t be expected to cause a revolution of some kind. Failing to act on information that we know though seems like a moral failing. That doesn’t mean we should all instantly attempt to go vegan at this very moment. Rather we should actively take small steps to address these issues in or day to day lives. Because if it isn’t going to be you or I that changes, then who?

Written by: Karsten Szajner

Image Credit: Pixar’s Wall-E


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