There is a wealth of information out there when it comes to pollution and ways of tackling it, which is exciting... but also daunting. In the midst of it all, how do we keep ourselves connected to the cause for a better planet and a better lifestyle without being alienated by excess? Maybe it’s time to turn our attention inwards.
Where does pollution have its origins? It is not an enigmatic event that happens externally and then affects us physically and emotionally. No, it is something that, in many ways, starts with every single one of us. The way to tackle it also begins with me and you, the only place we can begin to enact change as individuals, so that we can then step out of ourselves into the collective, but we must start with ourselves. Tackling environmental pollution means taking responsibility for our own space. Responsibility is not a physical thing you can buy or attain: it is a mental action. It happens when we decide to stop framing ourselves as a separate victim of an apparently hostile world, choosing instead to empower ourselves and acknowledge our position in relation to the world we want to see. If we desire a sustainable world, taking responsibility for that desire means aligning our thoughts with actions, regardless of whether others do the same. The best way to inspire others is to be an example, which means combining knowledge with action: bringing the praxis into the theory. That is the very fuel which powers change, and it is in our hands to enact it.
No single one of us is responsible for the overwhelming extent of pollution that takes place, but we are responsible for our contributions. It is true that for a long-lasting impact we need a systemic change that extends to our global leaders as well as mass corporations. But much of the consumerist activity which is so detrimental to the environment relies on the forces of supply and demand. As individuals, we can influence that. If we stop consuming products we don’t need, we automatically begin to reduce the demand for them. Once this is sustained, it will inevitably lead to a reduction in production, which also means less plastic and general waste. This could be as simple as cutting down meat and dairy intake, or turning away from companies that rely heavily on plastic packaging. It might seem insignificant at an individual level, but we exist within a social web and our actions bear an immediate influence on those near us, who then begin to influence people within their own social network - a bit like a domino effect.
In France, over 20,000 students have come together to sign a petition refusing to work with companies invested in the fossil fuel industry. This petition threatens the labour supply which allows the fossil fuel industry to exist, without labour mass corporations cannot function. As in this case, the initiative of a few people can very easily lead into a cascade of collective power. This is something any one of us can easily contribute to by using (and sharing) websites like Change.org or 38 Degrees. For example, major companies such as Strongbow, Carling and Tennent’s Lager pledged to eradicate plastic and beer cider rings by 2021 after a petition reached over 200,000 signatures in 2019. Ultimately, websites like this permit individuals to gather together and form a collective voice that pressures institutions to take a turn for a better future. There is a lot that can be done at an individual level with the right mindset.
So how do we stand up for our beliefs? Re-shaping our habits as consumers is a good place to start. Take a deep look inside, and look at the drives behind the habits that keep you from making the change you want to see. Next time you start craving a product, be it clothes, sports tech, make-up or food, ask yourself, ‘is this really what I need?’. Start observing how much pleasure these things actually give you. The youtube documentary ‘The Century of the Self’ explains how Edward Barnays, Freud’s nephew, used his uncle's ideas to create the world of propaganda we know today, designed to target people’s irrational impulses and desires. Often, these products provide us with a brief sense of pleasure which is then substituted with a sense of emptiness or remorse. We are all familiar with this feeling when over indulging (in food, or other products). To escape the uneasy feeling, we turn to the newest car or phone model, or to the latest fashion trends - constantly in search of more and more. It’s normal, it’s human, but it's also changeable.
This doesn’t mean that we should restrict ourselves constantly; it means finding balance at a mental level. Imagine it as a room: if it’s too full, it feels overwhelming and slightly claustrophobic, but if it’s empty, it looks a bit like it’s been clinically disinfected from any personality and abandoned. A healthy mindset is one where we can treat ourselves, but without excess.
Changing one’s habits can also come with great joy, especially when we see the fruit of our actions, but that takes time. Of course, fruits always come where we put in the effort. There is nothing like the feeling that comes with seeing hard work paying off. Our mindset should be like a project in constant evolution, which we assess and develop. When you reach this, you will find that there is always space for improvement, and the more you practice improvement, the easier it becomes, and the healthier you feel. Once we find balance in our minds, we can then better understand our relationship to each other as a collective and to our environment. We begin to discover a freedom to let things go. Maybe you change to buying your shampoo from a more ethical company, or find a collective space to create a community garden, or maybe you even begin to make your own cosmetic products!
When we have created space within ourselves and we are open to changing and improving our relationship with the world, opportunities will sprout up everywhere. Through embodied intention, we begin to attract things that can help us create a more sustainable world. This can be as simple as coming across apps like Olio or Too-Good-to-Go which allow us to redistribute food and items which would otherwise end up in landfill.
Our habits mean everything in the fight for a better planet. Climate change affects us personally, and taking steps at a personal level might be what we need to change our negative feelings about the state of the world to positive action. Inner care and love become analogous with care for the planet. When we are considerate with ourselves, with how the thoughts and habits that affect the balance of our mind, we automatically begin to cultivate tenderness towards others and our planet, because that is in our own best interests. Our state of mind and the environment are in constant dialogue. Make your dialogue one of love.
By Louder Than The Storm writer Nina Purton.