Action is the last step in true eco-living.
Updated: Apr 13
This week we have been asked a lot of questions, seen a lot of advice and been caught up in the whirlwind of reports of the fires in the Amazon.
Answering questions on how to help has been really tricky, because solutions to these problems are not straight forward, at all. Extremely fast solutions and reactions have been commonplace. We haven't offered any of these solutions. Because I don't feel it's that straight forward- and here is a bit of an explanation as to why. I also hope this article is an aid in future times too, like the next time palm oil becomes big news, or plastic or fashion.
Taking action, and changing something in your life on a regular basis, should be the last step of a process, when trying to reduce the impact of something (insert palm oil, meat, coconut oil, fashion, leather, dairy, coffee, avocado, pencils, electronics, cars, flying etc etc).
When we see disturbing reports in the media it's very easy to knee jerk react. To want to ban beef from our homes, stop buying palm oil and only buy ethical clothing again. Taking action feels good, as we can be proactively helping a situation ourselves, especially if we feel helpless, like with the Amazon. But a knee jerk doesn't necessarily gain the best environmental outcome. Environmental issues are hugely complex- many are studied for many years and we may still not fully understand an ecological process!
Environmental problems are intrinsically linked to social, cultural, health, economic issues that are simply IMPOSSIBLE to ignore. Conservationists working on the ground with deforestation will be dealing with economic development directly, whilst trying to conserve.
By taking immediate action, there is a good chance you're ignoring many other issues, that might be as, if not MORE important. I know this might seem daunting! You're trying to tackle one issue- how can you possibly do it all? But before you feel overwhelmed, take a good step back and look at the bigger picture... If you want to TRULY act, reduce your impact as much as possible and do the right thing, it's going to take a little longer than reading an instagram post.
All the actions I take in my own life, I do on the basis on many months if not years of research. I read many papers, never basing my own actions on a few pieces of information.
Again, I know it is frustrating and you want to take action, but my best advice for you now and in the future of your environmental action, is to RESEARCH, LEARN and THEN ACT.
This order is really important in the context of environmental problem and how YOU act.
You can't and shouldn't expect anybody to spoon feed answers to you about these issues. I went to University to study these issues and I am still learning everyday. Although I would LOVE to teach every single person about these issues, and the complexity of issues that as much environmental as social issues, I simply DO NOT have the time or resources to do this. And you shouldn't expect me to use my time (and paid for education) to give you free education, it undervalues me.
So to solve this problem, to help you with your panic, fear and desire to action, here is a step by step guide on how to ACT on environmental issues in a responsible informed and ultimately ethical way.
Lets break down this a bit more...
1) Research. Before you take action, research the issue yourself. Google is free. If you're reading this, there is a fair chance you'll be able to access google.
There, you can find many different routes to access research. Government organisations, non-governmental organisations, journal articles, research organisations.
- Do not base your research from one source. Read materials from many sources. This may take many months- that's normal.
- Documentaries are interesting but do not base your research on them. Read the research YOURSELF.
- Instagram should not be your source of research.
- Be critical of sources of information. Are they accredited? What qualifications does the writer have on the issue? Do they have financial gain behind the research?
- Utilise the bibliography of well known and well sourced work. For example, if a government body publishes a review, read the review but also check out the sources and read those for yourself.
- Understand that in scientific terms, a "paper" does not mean The Daily Star, but is a published, peer reviewed piece of research.
- If you don't understand an article, break it down. Google words (trust me, I still do this with almost every single paper I read) and even email the author!
- Keep notes of the papers you read.
- Further read into ideas mentioned in the papers.
- Don't just limit your research to "environmental" impacts. Read into social, economic, health, cultural impacts.
- Read books, but don't solely rely on them.
Hopefully you've been doing this a little whilst you are doing your research. But once you've read a number of papers, articles, reviews, you'll begin to form a wider view on the topic. You might not feel comfortable making evaluations before reading more. It's also completely normal and healthy to feel like you can never read or research enough... the more you learn the more you may realise you have to learn!
Think about how YOU fit into the context of the research. Can you afford to make changes based on what you've read might be a good action? Is this action available to you? Could something else be more impactful than one type of action? Will this be dangerous to you or impact your health? Will the impact be worth it in light of potential losses? Would a different action have bigger impacts? Can you CREATE a solution? Would reducing your consumption by half, instead of by 100% have an impact whilst still being affordable? Are the alternatives more damaging?
3. Act If Necessary.
Action does not always come in the form of no longer buying or no longer consuming. Sometimes this is a great tool, sometimes we can take other routes to create more impactful change. Your research and your evaluation will guide your decision on acting responsibly. It's perfectly OK to conclude that you shouldn't act, or that you should act sometimes. Or take a different course of action. Your "action" might change.
Whatever YOU decide to do, based on a informed decisions, do not compare this to anybody else. You do not need to keep up with the jones' or somebody else on instagram. If you base your decisions on solid, well researched ideas, be comfortable in that.
Everybody's version of sustainability will be different based on millions of different variables.
Respect another persons decision, listen to their why and do not judge.
4. Repeat this process. Regularly.
You should be continually learning, researching and evaluating your actions and decisions. "The science" is continuously expanding and learning, and so should you! Don't stop at researching once, but keep on top of general understanding and new articles.
It is COMPLETELY fine to change your course of action depending on new understanding. It's much better to evolve your action depending on informed decisions that you make with what you know, that continue ignorantly because you've been doing it for so long.
If you maintain open mindedness, calmness, and don't knee jerk react, it makes judging and dealing with environmental issues, a lot easier.
Heres another little tip when thinking about action: It is sometimes comforting to conform to certain labels, to feel like we're acting on an issue, to fit into a group. Please, don't feel the pressure of labels and tread your own metaphorical path (stick to real paths). The more you research you might find that acting in a certain way isn't the best for your situation. Ideals and labels are just that and please let go of the pressure of conforming to what other people see as the issue. Many of the greatest minds in this field do not conform into labels or ideals, but act on well researched decisions.
This process certainly might not seem as sexy as "10 steps to save the amazon". But I promise it has a greater potential for real change, for sustainable action and for creating more informed decisions.
If you're unsure of this process or want a little bit more support, drop us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below I have written a little example of the process.
You live in a rural town in New Zealand with a local shop that stocks locally produced seasonal produce, as well as standard beauty products and household items that they ship in, in bulk.
You are appalled at the plastic crisis happening globally and want to take action.
An easy action would be veto buying plastic wrapped products, to check online and buy plastic free items to have them shipped to you.
The better action, would be to research the problem from many different aspects.
You learn that there are very few producers of plastic free products in New Zealand, and that shipping from the USA, Europe or Australia would be the only way to get plastic free items. In your research you learn that plastic is far less carbon intensive to ship than alternatives such as glass. You also learn the carbon footprint of importing produce to your town.
Shipping in this items is extremely expensive and takes a very long time. This action only supports your environmental action and doesn't support wider change.
A better course of action, may be in this case, to work with the local store and local producer to see if local produce can be unpackaged. You support local producers in their work, knowing local produced and seasonal produce normally has a smaller carbon footprint. This way, you receive items you need, into the future, and so do local residents who may not understand the problem yet. You continue to support local business and your local community. You may still purchase items that are plastic wrapped, but understand that wider change is more important. This idea can evolve and you may decide to also start a Boomerang Bags project with a local school, in which unused clothes are made into reusable bags, to aid customers with there plastic free products and raise awareness to the impact of clothing production.