Is it time for some everyday environmental activism at your place? You’ve been making changes to your own family footprint. You’ve been implementing ways to reduce your household consumption, waste creation and resource use. You’re trying hard to change the habits of a lifetime in a culture that often doesn’t make that easy. What you’re doing is awesome.
But you have a nagging feeling that it just isn’t enough. You feel that your contribution to the effort to fight climate change and environmental disaster is just a drop in the ocean and that what we really need is widespread change. You know that we need governments and corporations to move faster toward sustainable policies and we need more households making more conscious and responsible choices.
And you are right. So if you are asking yourself, “What’s next? How can I do more? How can I have a bigger impact?”, the answer might be everyday environmental activism.
Don’t let the word ‘activism’ scare you. I was going to call this post ‘little A activism’ because ACTIVISM feels too big and intimidating but I don’t want to minimise the power that we have as individuals to effect change. The seemingly small things we can do to influence change in our society, that I list below, are activism in its true sense, there is nothing “little A” about it.
I think my fear about calling these actions as activism is that a commonly held view is that ‘activists’ are extremists, people who undertake risky and radical action for a cause. We picture environmental activists chaining themselves to bulldozers, in inflatable dinghies in the Antarctic or camping out in trees. While we can admire and be grateful for these brave people, as families living in the suburbs, it is difficult to picture ourselves in this image. We may not want to take these sorts of actions for any number of valid reasons.
In our democratic society, though, we can all be activists without making those sacrifices and taking those risks. If we want our feelings about the environment to be heard, we can raise our voices and make a stand in other ways. Let’s look at some everyday environmental activism options.
One very significant area in which we have power is in the products and services we choose to buy (or not buy). When we select products that are in tune with our values we take positive action that speaks volumes and is heard by the companies who manufacture and sell them – and their competitors.
The market does change in response to consumer choice as evidenced by, for example, the availability of ecologically responsible products on supermarket shelves. Just this morning I went to the IGA supermarket in the coastal town where I am currently staying and bought a (glass) jar of deodorant paste with all natural ingredients. Such a product would have only been available from a health food shop or specialist online store maybe only a year ago.
Even Woolworths supermarkets have stopped selling plastic straws. While it is wise to be cautious and alert for instances of ‘greenwashing’, big business does, of course, pay attention to the mood of the market and responds accordingly.
So everyday environmental activism can take the form of researching which products and companies are acting in ethical and environmentally sustainable ways and supporting them while avoiding or even boycotting those that are not. I use the Shop Ethical app to take some of the leg work out of this. A word of caution though, beware of looking for perfection. In our imperfect world, you might have to make compromises such as choosing a locally grown, organic tea from an ethical company that still uses plastic in its packaging. It is about weighing up the pros and cons and making a better choice, not necessarily a perfect one.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”Edward Bulwer-Lytton
A time honoured activist technique is to let your elected representatives know what is important to you by writing to them. Whether by email or snail mail, let them know what policy changes you want to see and that environmental responsibility is a key area influencing your vote.
But don’t stop with government officials, write to the the businesses you deal with if you think they could be doing things better. Tell them how you would like them to change their products or services to respect the principles you want to live by.
Don’t forget to also give positive feedback too. Recently I let one of the stallholders at my local farmer’s market know how much I appreciated being able to put loose cherry tomatoes into my own reusable produce bag rather than buy them prepackaged in plastic. It was a very small thing but I hope it encourages them to continue to think about ways to support people’s efforts to avoid single use plastic.
If you need some ideas about how to write these sorts of letters, Going Zero Waste has some great pointers.
Financial support for causes
Put your money where your mouth is! If you have the means, donate money to organisations and causes that are working to bring about change in the areas you care about.
In the documentary film 2040, it was proposed that one of the most impactful things we can do for the environment is actually to educate girls. Supporting an organisation working to improve girls’ education around the globe might be a great place to make charitable contributions as an act of everyday environmental activism.
Social media posting and sharing
Get others in your social circle on board with your ideas by sharing them on social media. People are more likely to make a change in their own lives if they see their peers doing it. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits puts it in his article “Why Facts Don’t Change our Minds“,
“If someone you know, like, and trust believes a radical idea, you are more likely to give it merit, weight, or consideration. You already agree with them in most areas of life. Maybe you should change your mind on this one too. But if someone wildly different than you proposes the same radical idea, well, it’s easy to dismiss them as a crackpot.”James Clear
We are unlikely to change the views and behaviour of those whose views are radically different from our own but we may just be able to influence those closer to us. Sharing your footprint reducing activities, and the reasons for them, on social media might be just the thing to set your friends on a lower footprint path themselves. At the very least, it may open up a conversation.
While you are there, share posts and articles from other people whose work you believe in. It helps them build a wider audience for their message and, hopefully, have a greater impact.
If you have the time either regularly or irregularly, volunteering to organisations and events in line with your values is another avenue for everyday environmental activism. Whether it is planting trees with Conservation Volunteers Australia, picking up rubbish on Clean Up Australia Day or providing volunteer administrative skills to an environmental organisation, there are many, many opportunities for volunteer activism.
Join a group
Joining a local or online group which brings together like-minded people can be a lovely way to build your eco-warrior network and support crew. Groups can be a great source of information and may even run educational workshops too. Being with like-minded people either online or in ‘the real world’ not only helps you to stay committed to your goals, it gives the group more power and adds volume to the ‘voice’ that it has on environmental issues.
Petitions to lobby governments, organisations or companies to consider the wishes of the community is a powerful and time-honoured way to unite a lot of individual voices.
Signing and perhaps even starting petitions on environmental issues is an everyday environmental activism action you can take a the local, federal and international level. Change.org is a popular and well-known platform for this.
And, finally, adding your weight to public rallies, demonstrations, strikes and marches is another highly visible way to show decision makers and the wider public that there is committed and vocal support for a cause and demand change.
According to researcher Erica Chenoweth, non-violent protests with participation representing 3.5% of the population have a good chance of bringing about political change.
The recent climate strike on 20 September 2019 saw an estimated 300,000 people across Australia attend. This was an impressive turnout but with the Australian population at approximately 25.3 million, sadly the participation rate might be too low yet to prompt any real political action. However, attendance percentages like 10% in Hobart, 4% in Canberra and 2% in Melbourne and the fact that the climate strike protest in September was double that of the one in March this year is encouraging. Let’s get 3.5% of the population along to the next one and make the government stand up and listen.
What activist actions will you take? Will you write a letter to an MP? Will you download the Shop Ethical app and swap one of your regular consumer products to a greener option? Will you attend the next Trash Mob? Will you share an excellent eco-article on Facebook?
Whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to start building in some everyday environmental activism actions to your week.