Sunday, August 19, 2007


One of the most overwhelming aspects of wanting to "make a difference" in this world is the sense that one small act cannot be adequately felt. This hindering notion seems true with anything, really. Often, goals seem too daunting to pursue because there is just too much to do to make them happen. So, we don't do do anything. Not only because we feel that it won't make a considerable difference, but because we somehow convince ourselves that it will require great sacrifice. There is also a pretense here: that if we don't sacrifice everything for environmental and/or humanitarian efforts, we cannot really allow ourselves to feel that we are making a difference. We are guilty of perpetuating this pretense each time we attack an individual for claiming to care about this world because they donate money to a particular charity but drive a gas-guzzling SUV. That all-or-nothing notion is a great restraint (and it keeps popping up in my psyche and blog!) and counterproductive to positive change.

One small step leads to big change. I was watching "Big Ideas for a Small Planet: Fuel" on the Sundance Channel a few weeks ago and the environmentalists on the show were not proposing absurd or complex ideas whatsoever. They emphasized that we are all environmentalists. We all enjoy trees, the ocean, the sun, fresh air. That unites us in a purpose: to preserve the environment because we all value it. One of the environmentalists on this episode also emphasized that it is not about sacrifice but about change. If we look at it in such terms, it seems less overwhelming. Think about a single act of kindness that has been bestowed upon you and how huge an impact that had on you for the better. It does make a difference.

One step at a time is all that is needed. One of the best analogies I've come across to substantiate this general notion comes from the movie/book The Secret. Jack Canfield (co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books) proposes that it is possible to drive all the way from New York to Los Angeles in the dark with the headlights of a car. We can't physically see Los Angeles (or much around us for that matter) when we set off from New York or along almost the entirety of the journey, but we can see about 100 yards in front of us with our headlights. And so, with faith, we can reach Los Angeles (our destination/goal) a hundred yards at a time. While this analogy is proposed to help individuals achieve personal goals, it fully applies to a united effort to improve the world. We can make this world better one step at a time, even if our goal seems far off and we don't know how long it will take to get there. All we should be concerned with is the 100 yards in front of us. Looking at it in these terms reduces that daunting element.

One person is all it takes and with each individual action a ripple effect develops and expands. Before you know it, that one small act you set out to accomplish has become two acts, three...and suddenly, a way of life. Undeniably, the people around you have also felt that ripple effect and your influence has ignited their own set of actions. And so it goes...creating a cycle of change.

So, why am I blogging about this? Well, as I've discussed here on my blog before, I am dedicated to making a change. While I am very passionate about humanitarian endeavors, I've become increasingly aware and passionate about doing what I can to make a difference environmentally. I too often allowed that daunting all-or-nothing feeling to prevent me from doing anything to really help reduce my footprint on the earth. But I decided to take one small step at a time and recently, I have come to discover that one small initial step has led to many steps I've taken with enthusiasm and without thinking of them as sacrifice. Here are some of the small steps I've taken to make a difference. I hope they inspire your own small steps toward making this a better world!

1. Signing the ONE Declaration. ONE is simply the campaign to make poverty history. Signing the petition only required my voice, my internal commitment to make poverty history in this world. My name, zip code, email address and country was all that was required. After I went to the site and read about the organization and signed the declaration, I told my family and friends about it. I asked them to sign it as well and I believe over 20 people did as a result and hopefully they encouraged others to do so as well. The ripple effect. As I post this, over 2.42 million people have added their names to this declaration. While it may not seem like a substantial action, sign it and see what happens to your sense of the world. After signing this, I felt increasingly aware of that commitment and inspired to live out that commitment, even if one small step at a time. And again, my one voice came together with over 2.42 million others! Maybe one person does not seem substantial enough, but surely 2.42 million does!

2. Fair Trade, Organic, Shade Grown Coffee.. As much as I love coffee, why should I enjoy my coffee (a luxury not necessity) at the exploitation of farmers and their families in South America or at an unneccesary cost to the environment? So, I have decided to only buy triple certified coffee where possible. Fair Trade certified coffee ensures that the coffee we drink was purchased under fair conditions. To be Fair Trade certified, coffee farmers must be guaranteed a fair minimum price per pound, be allowed much needed credit and given technical assistance to help transition to organic farming. Organic coffee, like organic foods, ensures that the coffee is produced without pesticides or herbicides. This is better for the environment and farmers...and the consumer! Often organic coffee is grown with an emphasis on recycling, composting, soil health and protection of the environment...all of which are important components of sustainability. Shade Grown coffee protects migratory bird populations, helps sustain rainforests, reduces or completely eliminates the use of chemicals, and tastes better. All of the triple certified coffee I've bought has been excellent. It is a bit more expensive but still much cheaper than an espresso drink at any coffeehouse.

3. Green Energy. I went online to my utilities provider and studied the green energy alternatives. I selected Green Source which is "100% renewable power from new wind, geothermal and biomass sources." 100% of my monthly energy usage is offset with renewable resources at a cost of less than $7 more a month for a typical energy customer. However, despite how insignificant this $7 is, I decided to take it further by watching my monthly energy use and am conscientiously trying to reduce the energy I use. I decided not to get an air conditioning unit as part of this decision and find myself more conscientious about leaving lights on unnecessarily, etc. So, the one decision of offsetting my energy use with renewable resources has led to other steps to reduce my energy use. (Disclaimer: this "Go Green" image in no way indicates a change in allegiance to a certain college football team!)

4. Reduce Bottled Water Purchases. I drink a lot of water and for the last few years, I have been buying individually bottled water. As healthy as this is, that is a lot of plastic! Plastic requires a lot of energy to recycle and every plastic food or drink item cannot be recycled into another food or drink product. Plastic production and processing also require the use of toxic chemicals and many manufacturing plants that produce these chemicals, also produce hazardous waste and pollute the air. So, despite the fact that I recycle each plastic water bottle I use, there is a huge cost to the earth to manufacture each plastic bottle and then recycle it. Of course, avoiding plastic altogether is very difficult but there are many ways to reduce purchase of platics and this is one of the most substantial in my own life. So, I now use reusable water bottles almost entirely.

5. Reusable Shopping Bag. Another easy way that I found to avoid unnecessary plastic (and paper) use was to purchase a reusable shopping bag. I did this one day when shopping at Trader Joe's. They sell reusable bags for $2 and each time you use a reusable bag when shopping there, they give you a ticket to submit for a weekly drawing of $25 of free groceries. Another alternative would be to simply reuse the store's plastic or paper bags. In addition to reducing the energy expenditure required to manufacture and recycle plastic, reusing bags limits the plastic bags that kill many birds and marine animals each year. Although you and I may responsibly recycle our plastic bags, many plastic bags make it to landfills or just out into the environment in general. This leads to another key issue regarding plastic: it takes a very long time for plastic to degrade and many plastics buried in landfills do not degrade.

6. Replace One Incandescent Light Bulb with One Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb. Contract magazine recently posted this: "If every American meets the challenge to replace just one incandescent bulb in their residence with a compact fluorescent light bulb, it would be the equivalent of removing the emissions from almost one million cars; if every American household changes the 20 or more light bulbs in the typical US home, that equates to emissions avoided from 15 million cars. That reduction scale represents 5 percent of the annual reduction we need to be carbon neutral, or reduce our emissions to pre 1990 levels. Small acts add up to big positive impact."

These are just a few of the steps I've made in my own life and as I've emphasized, I'm really amazed at how each small step has led to many ripple steps, increasing my awareness and guiding my actions. I entitled this post "One" not only to reinforce the premise that one small step can amount to tremendous change/positive impact but also to emphasize the oneness of humanity. With each individual step we take in pursuit to better humanity and the environment, we solidify that we are one. This shouldn't be an abstract or quixotic notion. We all experience suffering and happiness. We all need air, food and water. We all desire love. Looking at the world as one has really been the driving force behind my desire and actions to make this a better world.

I'm truly not sharing this with any sense of self-righteousness, nor is it driven by ego. My simple and sincere hope is that it inspires you. I'd also love to be inspired by you and would appreciate hearing about some of the steps you've taken to make this world a better place. image nabbed from here.
Go Green bulb image nabbed from here.
Bird image nabbed from here.


Richard said...

Oddly enough, I never worried about whether my efforts make a significant impact or not - it is just the right thing to do. Although, sometimes, there a moments of angst over why I bother being different when no one else is.

Glad to see you recognize that plastic is not really recyclable. Most of the time it is just mashed together with a bit of glue and used for making plastic lumber, or shredded and used as filler. Making "virgin" plastic requires lots of dangerous chemicals and energy - which makes me wonder if it is worth it.

I think a lot of people have a problem with only taking what they need and leaving the rest, unspoiled for others.

b said...

Richard...It is great that you look at it that way. For a long time, I just never gave much thought to the environment along these lines. I assumed that recycling was good enough.

Yeah, plastic is terrible. All food and beverage products must be made with "virgin" plastic and a lot of energy and dangerous chemicals are required. Not only is this terrible for the environment but makes you wonder how good it is for our health, to consume products stored in plastic.

I think your last comment is particularly true in "developed" nations where people have way more than they need and yet want way more than they have. Consumerism. And much of that desire for more comes from billions of dollars spent on marketing. By any chance have you seen the documentary, The Corporation?

Richard said...

Nope, have not seen it.

carra said...

B, we still seem to think alike! Just couple of days ago I was writing an article for a magazine promoting environment friendly lifestyle and I actually started believing myself that by doing little things, like you mentioned above I can too help in saving this beautiful planet!

Cavalock said...

that bird kinda reminds me of the time i went swimming at the beach n my foot got caught in a KFC bag.

b said...

carra...that is great! yes, we are so often on the same wavelength, aren't we? there are many things that we can each do to help preserve this beautiful planet and doing so doesn't require that we relinquish our dreams/other pursuits. harmony is absolutely possible. by the way, i'd love to see that article! were swimming at the beach and got your foot caught in a KFC bag?! yes, i can see how the bird does remind you of that moment. :)