Saving the world is hard.
You want to save the polar bears – I know you do. So you learn about them. You find out that they need glaciers to live on, and that their habitat is disappearing because of global warming. So you research ‘how to stop global warming’. You discover international treaties to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, that won’t really do much to stop global warming, just slow it down. You read up on politics. On greenhouse gas pollution. On scientific ways to trap the carbon dioxide. You calculate that if somehow you could stop using your car, your refrigerator, your phone, and maybe didn’t exhale carbon dioxide every two breaths, it still wouldn’t be enough, because you are a drop in the ocean of carbon-polluting individuals.
So you give up. You can’t save the polar bears, you think. They are going to drown, and it’s not your fault – it’s because of politics, of deforestation that takes away the trees that emit CO2, of science that has not yet evolved to create ways of absorbing all of our polluting gases. You still feel terrible whenever someone mentions the polar bears on TV or Facebook – so you don’t watch those documentaries, and you unfollow the people that put up those pictures of doom. There’s nothing you can do, you think. So why bother yourself with that?
But what if there was something you could do within your reach?
Think of your daily life. You probably have a busy routine. You wake up, go to work, have lunch, work some more, eat dinner, have some leisure time and go to sleep. At the end of the day, you haven’t had time to wash all the dishes that you used that day – there are some in the sink or in the dishwasher. Or maybe you didn’t have time to clean after yourself – your desk is a mess, the house is a little dirtier. The day is over, but there are still traces of unfinished activities that you started that very day, that are left for ‘tomorrow’ or the ‘weekend’.
You’re asking yourself what this has to do with global warming. It has everything to do with global warming. We, humans, do not live within our means. We do not calculate enough time to deal with all these pending items (washing dishes, cleaning up desks) in a day. These are our impacts, our footprints, what we leave behind. And they go from the micro-level, to the dish that you left in the sink, to the global level, the amount of carbon you emitted that day that traveled to the atmosphere.
Now the reason you didn’t do those things is simple. You didn’t do them because you didn’t want to. Who wants to take away some Netflix time to deal with all the dishes? You deserve to have a break in the day, right? If you were to do everything you were supposed to do in a day, there would be no time left to relax.
But if you imagined that every time you worked a little more to take care of those things, that you were saving a polar bear, would you do it? Would you be a little more motivated to change your way of living, if you knew you were promoting a more sustainable lifestyle, something that would rub off onto other people until it reached the higher levels of government?
Would you go the extra mile to replace old habits with new ones, to live within your means?
You can’t cut off all of your impacts. But you can reduce them – greatly – for a better world.
I told you. Saving the world is hard. You have to work for it.