I use to constantly argue with my ex about the issue of one person being able to make a difference. He was firmly in the camp of believing that the actions of one human meant nothing and could not change anything, ever. He believes it is the government, and the government alone who can and should make the changes necessary. Why would I bother with a reusable cup? Why were proper Tupperware type containers more important than take-out plastic containers? Why would I get annoyed if I forgot my reusable bag when grocery shopping? Who cares how much packaging a product has? So many questions he’d demand of me and if my answer was anything akin to “Because the choices I make matter…”, we’d be in for another debate.
Bringing up the Sorites Paradox would just confuse him because it seemed more hokey and philosophical than straight out being able to say “Nah, my actions only affect me”. For those not familiar with the paradox, it deals with vagueness and lack of definition. It asks “Where do you draw the line?” eg: I have a grain of sand. Is that a pile? You’d probably say no. I add another grain of sand. Two grains are not a pile either, is it? I keep adding to my little pile, grain, by grain, by grain. Eventually, by one small action at a time, you’re going to have to agree that I have a pile of sand. So where’s the threshold? At what point do you admit I now have made a change – I have a pile, where once I had nothing?
He was not the only person I would have this discussion with, and I very much doubt he’ll be the last or the most staunch in the rejection of the idea that one persons actions matter. The thought process allows the person to ignore personal responsibility and accountability. This kind of thinking is poisonous. It is insidious and it spreads because on the surface it seems believable. It’s the easy pill to swallow. I also found ignoring world issues has become easier and easier as we become more and more desensitized to the environmental marketing campaigns.
Once upon a time the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” was revolutionary. It was taught in schools, and for a few years it stuck. It was catchy, it came with a message of awareness and horrifying photos and videos of what was happening to our plastic bags and cigarette butts and other rubbish. Now however, the message is so over-done there is nothing that can reach us as a mass population. The pleas are falling on deaf ears and blind eyes because it has become just another marketing campaign. Another droll sound in the white noise that is advertising.
A quick Google search will tell you instantly that one person in a western country is subjected to between 4,000 and 10,000 adverts A DAY. Freaking Heck. That’s so many adverts. And unfortunately, the greener movement falls in to those numbers. We just simply do not see the messages to look after our environment any more. We made progress with a few movements, and in Australia some States are starting to ban plastic bags from supermarkets – or at least charge a fee for using them. Some States have had these laws in effect for a few years. Some States never went near the idea. There’s no cohesive movement; and that’s a big problem. But that problem can be brought to leaders’ attention. And there is still something we, the little folk, can do about it.
People on the side of non-action believe their shopping habits make no difference. Let me tell you, plain and simple: Your shopping habits matter. Every company that uses a register, a scanner, or a bar code collects data. And if you use a loyalty card, that data is not only stored, but it’s collated to MATCH YOU. My local supermarket knows that I haven’t bought a meat product in nearly a year. They no longer market meat to me in my weekly specials email. They know I love a certain yoghurt, and they know my favourite apples. They collect that data. My registers ask me if I bought my own bag. They collect, they see, they use. Every single little beep that scanner makes is a vote you cast. You vote for what bag your products go in to. You vote for what kind of packaging you are ok with your food or clothing coming in. You vote for which chemicals/compounds/animal parts you are comfortable with having in the products you buy. You vote for how you want your world to look every time you buy ANYTHING. Your vote matters. YOUR ACTIONS MATTER.
This conversation, dialogue, tirade… what ever you want to call it can spiral out in to so many branches. And I want it to. It’s a conversation worth having, but it’s a conversation worth having in pieces. Changes need to be small for them to become less scary. Change needs to be gradual and approachable and repetitive to become habit. Changing your habits bit by bit is sustainable and healthy. The small act of remembering to take your reusable bag every time you go to the supermarket makes an impact, one bag at a time. One grain of sand at a time. The small act of choosing to buy your apples loose, and chop them up when you get home instead of buying pre-chopped, shrink wrapped in unrecyclable-packaging makes an impact. One package at a time. One vote cast for sustainable practises at a time. One grain of sand at a time.
Small actions. Small changes. Votes cast, and grains of sand piled up high in to a dune that can drown a legion. What will you do with your grains of sand?