6 min read

Can individual choices really make a difference?

Can individual choices really make a difference?

In this episode, I present a logical argument explaining why your individual actions really do make a difference in the race to reverse global warming.

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Uninhabitable Earth – by David Wallace-Wells

Key takeaways from the Green Protein Report


Do your individual choices matter in the race to reverse global warming?

Can you really make a difference as one person?

I chat to people about my fears around climate change and global warming, and I think the inertia that a lot of people feel comes about from their deep-seated expectation that they can’t make a difference. That this is actually a monumental problem. That it’s overwhelming for people, and they just feel like this is something that governments have to solve and that one person making a change can’t make a difference.

And I totally understand feeling that way. I can remember times as an adult when I didn’t vote in political elections, because I didn’t think voting made a difference. But I’m here to tell you today that it’s so important that you don’t give up, because essentially, if you feel disenfranchised like that, if you feel like you can’t make a difference, then that is a form of giving up.

It’s also a form of absolving personal responsibility. If your argument is always that, oh well, the government needs to fix it, the government needs to do X, Y, and Z. The thing is, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Governments are reactive. They will make changes when the populous demands it. Change will occur if enough of us demand it. So how do we make that change happen? We just have to act as though that change has already happened. Yes, it would be ideal if governments placed a small tax on every manufacturer that used single use plastic to package their products, because at the moment they don’t really pay for the disposal of such products.

But until they do that, all we can do is avoid using products where we can that come in single-use plastic. Yes, it would be great if our local council collected all our organic food waste. At Wellington, we don’t do that yet, but it’d be great if the council did. In the meantime, all we can do is compost our organic food waste in our own backyards and wait for the council to take action like they should.

Governments are slow. And the thing with the sort of stuff is, if you’re relying on the government to make these changes, in New Zealand we only vote every three years, but you decide what to eat three times a day. And in terms of our own individual carbon footprints, what we eat can make a massive, massive difference. And whether we compost our organic food waste, and whether we recycle as much as possible, and whether we avoid using single-use plastic, and whether we take fewer flights, and try to move towards more efficient vehicles and things.

So the action of millions, if we see change across society as a whole, that’s just the collective change built up. There’s just a whole lot of individuals changing their habits. And you can be one of those individuals. One thing to remember with climate change is that it’s not a binary thing. It’s not like the world is going to have global warming or not. It’s not a switch that we turn on and off. The planet is heating up, it’s simply a matter of how bad we let it burn. It’s simply a matter of how bad we let it get.

So even if you think the difference you can make as infinitesimally small, it still is a difference because it’s simply a matter of fact that the world is on a heating continuum and it’ll just get warmer and warmer and warmer until we change. So it can always get worse. It’s going to always gets worse. That’s almost like a kind of a crazy beautiful part of this horrible worldly affliction is that, no matter how far we let things slide before we make changes, it’s always going to be worth pursuing positive change to save future generations from a more challenging existence.

I think there’s another part to this global warming discussion that is challenging for all of us, which is that as humans, we find it hard to consider the long-term ramifications of our actions. We find it hard to look at what we’re doing and say, “How is this going to affect my grandkids?” We crave immediate answers and results. We care about short-term wins and losses. If we try a new diet, we want to see instant impact. If we try a new strategy with our kids, we want to see instant behavioural change.

Sadly, climate change doesn’t offer instant feedback loops. It’s kind of like putting on weight. You don’t notice the day-to-day change, but one day you wake up and look in the mirror and know that it’s gone too far. One of the best books you can read, if you’re interested in seeing and learning about some of the long-term repercussions of inaction is Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells. One of the incredible examples he uses is a 2015 study that found that human-caused climate change was a major trigger of serious brutal civil war. But one of the repercussions of that is that that unleashed about a million refugees on Europe, which largely created this whole populous movement and election of more right leaning governments.

The world bank estimates that because of climate change, we’re going to see around 140 million refugees from places like Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the rest of South Asia by 2050. And that’s not that far away. So you can imagine if a million refugees from Syria caused as many issues as have been caused in Europe, what’s going to happen when it’s 140 million people that can no longer live in their home countries because it’s too hot and they’re having droughts and they can’t grow food? Where are they going to go?

The UN projections are even bleaker. The United Nations have predicted there’ll be 200 million climate refugees by 2050. To me, that’s a ridiculously scary thought. That makes me think our kids are going to be fighting in climate wars, and it’s our generation and the next generation that are going to bear the brunt of this. So there are real ramifications of inaction. And so no matter how bleak it gets, no matter how ineffective I think individual actions might be, I’m going to take whatever action I can, because I don’t want to look at my kids in 20, 30 years time and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know that it was going to be this bad.” But with all that, I’d say, I really do think our individual choices matter.

I think they can make a difference. I think you can lead by example and show other people that it matters to make the right choices.

Note: The latest projections are now saying 1.2 billion people could be displaced by climate change by 2050!

The three very best actions you can take to reverse global warming are simply to reduce the amount of red meat that you eat, to divert as much organic waste as you can from landfill. That means reducing the amount of food you waste as a family. That means making sure you eat leftovers, making sure you don’t cook more than you need and making sure that anything that is left over you put into a compost bin outside or a Bokashi bin if you’re in an apartment. Number three is to try and minimize how much you fly and how much you drive a petrol car.

That’s essentially it. I’m not saying don’t go on holiday. You should definitely do that, but just think carefully about it, and where you can be smart about your transport, then please do that. But by far and away, the number one thing is eating less red meat. Don’t have to go vegan. You don’t even have to be vegetarian. Maybe you just save red meat for when you go out to a restaurant or something like that. But red meat is the most intensive food to create. So if you want one little thing you can do, that’s it.

So for everyone listening, and I hope that gave you a bit of an understanding of why I’m so passionate about this, and why I believe individual choices really do matter. Thanks for listening, everybody.