As we prepare for the 2015 Sustainable Living Fair, which is coming up Saturday, Oct. 17, some wonder: Do individual actions really matter? Does it really make a rat’s ass worth of difference, in a world of more than seven billion people—one that appears to be going to hell in a hand-basket—if we recycle, compost, ride a bike or plant a garden?
The simple answer is “yes, it does.” The combined impact of humanity is the sum of all of our actions. Insulating and weatherizing your house will reduce your demand for energy to heat and cool, and this, besides saving you money, means just a little bit less in the way of greenhouse gases and other environmental pollution. By itself, it’s not “the solution,” but it is a baby step in that direction. If just one person does this, the impact is tiny, to be sure, but if a million Missouri homes took such action . . . . there is a cumulative effect.
This, of course, begs the question: how do we get a million Missouri homeowners or landlords to take such action? Or, how do we get folks to go solar? And the answer to this is neither clear nor simple. You might come to the SLF, find out about solar photovoltaics, hook up with a vendor and get solar panels installed. Or you might arrange an energy audit and then invest in tightening up your building envelope. The chain of decision making is in your hands and the actions yield definite, albeit limited, results. Each of us has the most control and say-so over our own choices and actions.
Getting others to take such action, however, is more challenging. It can come through public education, but, more often than not, it comes through changes in public policy. This can include prescriptive or proscriptive laws and codes. It also can include offering financial incentives, including tax credits and rebates.
We, here at Peaceworks, along with our allies, continue to work for these, but our ability to influence the process is limited, particularly when majorities in legislatures at the state and federal levels are generally bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry. They are lukewarm at best on renewables and energy efficiency, the two keys to a sustainable future.
So, to actually achieve public policy changes, it is imperative that we forge a mass movement. Such movements are a necessary ingredient in almost all social change and especially in making changes that challenge the power and perquisites of those who are profiting from current arrangements.
But mass movements are only truly effective if its participants’ means are consistent with their ends. A movement for climate justice led by hyper-consumptive jet-setters living in McMansions and driving everywhere in gas-guzzling SUVs isn’t going to win over many people.
Rather, we must heed Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We must recognize the potential for each of us to serve as an example to others. If you plant a big, organic garden and have lots of great produce, your neighbors likely take notice. If they see you peddling off to work or school, it might get them thinking. And, if another neighbor joins you in one of these activities, it’s no longer just that one kooky granola, but rather something that’s catching on; something that maybe, just maybe, they should consider becoming a part of.
So, as the October 17 Sustainable Living Fair approaches, our invitation is out there. We need you to be part of the solution. We’re talking about being an active part of a movement that calls for a radical (that is “to the root”) rethinking and restructuring of our economic system and our very way of life. We’re asking you to participate in an active fashion, both in the more “political” aspects of this process—that is education and advocacy—as well as “walking the talk” by adopting more sustainable ways in your own life.
In summary, sustainable living is necessary, but not sufficient. It’s an important part of what we need to be doing. We encourage you to join us, learn more, apply the lessons as you can to green-up your lifestyle, and then take it to the next level by helping build a movement that can redefine our system. In the process, working together, hopefully we will prevent the more catastrophic impacts of runaway climate change and, in the long run, help restore planetary balance. It’s up to all of us.
Want to help with the SLF? We are looking for volunteers. Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 573-875-0539.