Do small sustainable actions actually help fight climate change?

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We don’t have any more paper towels at home. What started as a simple experiment to see how long we could go without replacing our last role led to a sweet discovery. We just didn’t need them.

Working around that seemed like a better move for the environment. Other things we’ve done differently? I stopped buying plastic toothbrushes and started stocking up on bamboo ones. We stopped buying dryer sheets and switched to reusable balls. We switched all our lotions and things to ones that were good for the ocean.

For me, making environmentally minded changes isn’t much of a chore. It’s fun! It’s like a little challenge to see how we can keep finding new, more sustainable ways to do things we’ve been doing for years.

But that raises a really interesting question- does all this matter?

You can make a pretty decent argument that it doesn’t.

It wasn’t long ago that I read a Twitter conversation between a screenwriter and an environmental scientist. The screenwriter asked what the most effective thing he could do to stop climate change would be. “Probably stop eating meat,” said the scientist, “but I’m not so sure it matters.”

The line of thinking this follows is that most of what causes climate change is the result of exploitative industrial practices and poor governance. There’s very little that can be done at an individual level to stop it.

After all, about 100 companies with extremely large profit margins are responsible for about 70% of carbon emissions globally. If nothing is done to stop their actions, what will our small actions matter?

Shane Claiborne believes they still do.

I had the chance to interview the author and activist a few months ago. In college, his writing really helped shape my worldview and understanding of my faith. Getting to talk to him for a little bit was a treat.

“It was a bunch of small actions that got us into this mess in the first place,” he pointed out. I suppose we shouldn’t underestimate the way these actions add up.

“Some people call me an idealist. What I think is idealistic is thinking we can go on living unsustainably like this without there being any major consequences.”

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Nick Laparra is in it for the long game

Nick interviewed me for his Let’s Give A Damn podcast back in the spring. I interviewed him in return immediately after. Nick’s help is what led to me launching the Grassroots Podcast this year.

Away from the mic, he is taking his family on a similar journey of trying to live as sustainably as possible. “I may not get to see the immediate result of the work that I’m doing and that’s fine. I’m in this for the long haul,” he admits.

I decided to make the question- do our small actions make a difference- the theme of our latest podcast episode.

In it, I talk to Shane, Nick, and a few others.

For what it’s worth, I think our small actions do matter. I don’t want to reach the point where I stop doing all the things I can in life to make this a better world, no matter how small their impact may be.

I want to leverage whatever influence I have towards sustainability. In the realm of politics and industry, that’s relatively little. I’d still want to be a wise voter and consumer. In my personal life, that’s quite a bit.

Besides, I think it’s important to stop treating the blame game as an acceptable stalemate. Individuals saying the government needs to do more. The government saying they’re leaving it up to the businesses. Businesses saying they just respond to consumer demands from individuals. All are right, but all are also culpable. 

Tune into the Grassroots Podcast to listen to Episode 5- Do My Small Actions Make a Difference on Spotify, Apple, and other major podcast platforms.

Philippe Lazaro