Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. I’m a creature of vanity, so I’ll call it a sabbatical. I did some reading, lounged around a bit, made some changes, and now I’m back.
As humans, we tend to run around with the blinders on, committed to the appealing ideal that ignorance is bliss. Every once in a while, we need to take the blinders off, lift our heads, and reassess our surroundings. We need to be ever aware.
I know that, personally, I get tunnel vision. I get so focused that all else fades away.
With all my head clearing, I found the time to watch Speak, a movie in which an awkward Melinda Sordino says the following:
“I think you should know what you stand for, not just what you’re against. You should be able to show how things can be better.”
Needless to say: it struck a chord.
So I gave it some thought. What do I stand for? What am I against? How do I show it can be better?
I’ve said before that I’m an environmentalist. Inherently, that’s a form of activism. In fact, I often think it’s the most difficult activist topic, because it’s the culmination of so many topics.
An activist can always tell you what they’re against.
I have a difficult time seeing myself as a conventional activist. I come from a family that plays by the government’s rules—even when the government does not. I don’t participate in protests because I find them counter-productive. I lead by example. I write. I lobby.
I’m not saying protesting is bad. In fact, I have many friends who participate in them. However, the act of protesting is intrinsically flawed: people do not listen when all you have to show them are the things that are wrong.
We know our way of life is broken. The problem is not that realization.
Another flaw is that protesting often brings out people who don’t particularly care about your cause. They’re often just looking for a riot, and as soon as a riot breaks out: you lose all your credibility. This is becoming harder and harder to avoid as governments of countries, left, right, and center, are being found guilty of “purposefully provoking” riots, with the intended end of debunking “rightful protests”.
I aim to be a different kind of activist. Let me tell you a little bit about that...
Being an activist is a bit like having split-personality disorder. You need to be a million people. You need to be a student. You need to be a teacher. You need to be a politician. You need to be a warrior. You need to be a professional. You need to be a visionary. And you need to be a sales-man.
Being an activist essentially boils down to trying to sell someone else on your lifestyle. You’re trying to activate them. You can’t sell somebody on something that looks unattractive to them. We all want something shiny—it’s our inner hunter at work—and we all want something easy. Nobody will follow you into a lifestyle riddled with hardships. It’s not in our programming.
Conscience will only get people so far!
Your best option is always to lead by example. If you look like you’re having fun, and thriving, people will follow.
Let me define “thriving”: you cannot look like your lifestyle change has caused you to either greatly lax your personal standards, or it has caused you to fall apart. Nobody will follow a slob.
Mainly, you have to show people that their choice to change would benefit them somehow, or cause them very little inconvenience.
(Personally, I’m a fan of the historically successful “bait and switch” tactic.)
That’s where being a teacher and a politician comes into play. The offensive play of an activist is to tactfully show people something that should offend them (not PETA style) or to charismatically remind them that they are offended.
Here is where we can spotlight Melinda Sordino’s words again:
You should be able to show how things can be better.
Every time you say don’t, have a do ready in the wings, to follow it promptly. Your solutions should accessible—and that is, unfortunately, where I tend to falter. I get people to the point where they ask “what can I do?” But my reflex answer is often subject to government action, such as solar panels and wind farms, or simply unrealistic, such as become a vegetarian (which is often considered by people to be a tremendous inconvenience) or build a house out of waste material (even I can’t afford to do this yet.)
So, how can the average person realistically make things better?
• Carpool. There are 900 million vehicles on the roads of the world.
• Eat 1 less meal with meat during the week. Becoming a vegetarian is unrealistic for you? It takes 100 liters of water to make 1 kilogram of potatoes, and 13 000 liters of water for 1 kilogram of beef. To break that down into a more tangible number for you: dinner took 6 months worth of showers. Carbon output: if everyone ate 1 less serving of meat a week, it would be the same as taking 5 million cars off the roads.
• Buy less new. Your phone/MP3 player/computer still works? Use it. Studies show that less than 1% of the things we buy are in rotation (or use) as little as 6 months later.
• Reassess the way you use paper. The demand for paper has gone up 5-fold in the last 50 years. How can you trim your paper use? First, ask yourself if it really needs to be printed. Yes? Narrow the side-margins, along with the head and foot margins, of the paper that you send through the printer. More words per page means less pages. Use both sides of the paper. Handwrite notes? You know that blank space at the top of the paper meant for titles but is dead space on all subsequent pages? Use it.
• Use your grey water. Grey water is the water you use to cook. You rinse vegetables. You strain your noodles. Save the water and use it to water your potted and garden plants. There’s no need to use double the water if you don’t have to. If you can, use grey water to flush your toilets.
• Compost. Vegetable skins and cores, once biodegraded a bit, would be lovely for that garden I just told you to water with grey water.
• Put a stone in your toilet’s water reservoir. Each flush will use less water.
• Be a green consumer. Buy bar soaps and shampoos. Shower lotions and conventional shampoos come bottled in plastic containers that are either un-recycle-able in your area or can never be fully recycled—and buy recycled goods when you can. The grain of the paper may be a little coarser, but no new trees from the (toxic to foreign plant life) eucalyptus farms went into it.
• Change your light bulbs. Depending on where you’re reading from, you might have seen the Every Kilowatt Counts campaign. The truth is: every kilowatt does count. Low energy light bulbs, from as little as 13 watts, can be the light of your life.
• Learn to sew. I’m not talking about learning to fully clothe yourself (although, if you can: why not?), I’m talking about learning to mend seams so that a simple tear doesn’t send you out to the stores for new clothing.
• Bring your own utensils. Fast-food is never green, that’s a given, but sometimes, with our lives, they’re simply a matter of convenience. Ladies: keep a set of utensils in your purse. You can even go out and buy one of those camping tooth-brush cases to transport them.
• Say "no" to receipts. It's that simple. Unless you're claiming them on your taxes, you don't really need them.
• Eat wild oats for breakfast on busy days. How does what you eat for breakfast affect your ability to be green? Like this: oats fill you up. You’re less likely to need that fast-food pick-me-up throughout your day. They also settle nerves, anxiety, depression, and are a good source of protein (a plus for vegetarians). Keeping a level head is much easier when you’re not combating unnecessary external forces.
• Develop a personal style. It doesn’t sound green, but trust me, having your own look or style will help you to not be swayed by all that glitters in fashion magazines and store windows. It will help you cut down on your consumerism.
• Speak up. Talk to others. Share what you’ve learned and take in what they’ve learned. We’re all students.
Being an activist is about your ability to speak. Your ability to affect change. You need to communicate the desire, the means, and the need for others to choose to speak up and affect change.
Show them things can be better.
Otherwise… we’re just blowing hot air.