DON’T TELL ME I’M POWERLESS
In September of this year (2018) this article by George Monbiot appeared in the Guardian.
It's entitled "We won't save the Earth with a better kind of disposable coffee cup".
I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment and I love George Monbiot’s writing.
How he’s not afraid to tell us how it is, and never feels the need to sugar coat or skirt around the big environmental issues.
And I started reading his latest piece thinking “YES!”.
But that quickly turned to “Noooooooo”.
Mr Monbiot (I’m sorry I can’t refer to one of my environmental heroes by surname alone) is 100% right when he says that “the problem is not just plastic: it is mass disposability”.
We spent a year buying nothing new as a family a few years ago, and this experience opened my eyes to the disposable society we now find ourselves in. I thought it would be a struggle to find the things we needed second-hand, but the charity shops are bulging with cast-offs, all bought and disposed of with very little thought as to their impact on the planet.
Convenience is now King, and the plastic pandemic we are now faced with is the very visual evidence of that.
But I would challenge the premise of the rest of the article which seemed to be that as individuals we can’t do anything to make a difference.
That as consumers “we are confused, bamboozled and almost powerless”.
Maybe that was once the case, but I see a new breed of consumer that are waking up to the power that I truly believe we all have. That are getting informed, that can see through green-washing and are demanding better of retailers and manufacturers.
George Monbiot challenges David Attenborough (in itself surely a treasonable offence?) for telling us in that seminal episode of Blue Planet II (the one we all cried at with the dead baby whale) that we could “do something” and then not telling us what, but goes on to do exactly the same thing.
We’re told we need to challenge consumerism, and capitalism.
But for the average Jo, or Joanna, people like me - work at home mums with school runs, and packed lunches and snotty noses to contend with, short on time, energy and headspace, to be told that the only way we can effect change is to “fight corporate power, change political outcomes and challenge the growth based world consuming system we call capitalism”, that’s a pretty big ask!
I consider myself a pretty ardent environmentalist, but I find myself overwhelmed at the thought of that.
Where do I even start? What can I actually do?
Finding an alternative to clingfilm for school lunches, or pasta that doesn’t come in plastic bags feels like a pretty herculean effort some weeks, and now you’re telling me I’m not making a difference unless I’m single-handedly working to create a new economic system that doesn’t put profit above all else?
The public reaction to Blue Planet II has already led to some massive changes that would have hitherto been unthinkable – Iceland committing to phase out plastic packaging on all it’s products, Teresa May vowing to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste over the next 25 years. These are big things. Yes, we need more change, we need faster change. But plastic and the environment is finally on the agenda, and in the pubic consciousness.
Please don’t tell those of us who are trying to make a difference, to make better, more informed choices, to wean ourselves off consumerism that we are powerless. That each of our choices don’t matter, because they do.
If you tell people they are powerless, they are powerless.
If you tell them that whatever they do, it will be the wrong thing, or it won’t make a difference, they will give up trying.
We don’t have all the answers. Yet.
Some of the ‘solutions’ are actually no better than the current situation (corn starch cups as a great example), but they are starting conversations. Ordinary people on the street, mums on the school run, commuters on the train are starting to look up and challenge the status quo. To actually stop and think about the impact of their lifestyle and their choices on the planet and on their kid’s futures for what may well be the first time.
This is huge.
“Defending the planet means changing the world.” To quote Mr Monbiot once more.
Yes it does.
But that’s a pretty scary and intimidating prospect when I’ve got to pick the kids up at 3pm.
So I’m working on changing my world. On taking responsibility for my choices, for making my voice heard – via the choices I made and also through the conversations I have. Whether those are with my next-door neighbour when we put the wheely bins out, or my local MP.
I don’t know how to change our economic system, but I do know how to make sure that my choices count.
Please don’t dismiss that.