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Environmentalism: Do Individual Choices Matter?

It's natural to feel overwhelmed when considering widespread issues, such as social equality, climate change, or animal welfare. This feeling of overwhelm may lead us to think, “I get this is an issue, but what can I do about it?” This logic, however, can lead us down a slippery slope. Should we throw litter in the trash? Should we volunteer? Should we vote? Why try at all?

Consumer purchases (or decisions not to purchase!) can be thought of as 'voting with our dollar'. With our purchases, we affect the supply of chain and demand. One common argument against voting with our dollar is that it can lead people to engage less in broader political actions. Put another way, it may drain our energy.

I think that it's good to be aware of this human tendency, and develop strategies to overcome this. Undoubtedly, I agree that our end goal should be to influence policy. Encouragingly, we’re already making strides in this sphere, for example, with many cities banning plastic bags.

Luckily, we don’t need to choose between taking political action or becoming more conscious consumers. Below, I'll describe a couple more reasons why I think it’s important for us to do our personal best to make our daily decisions align with our environmental values.

Our Actions Influence Others

I mentioned above that environmental movements ultimately seek to change policy. However, an evolving cultural attitude precedes political change. Kurt Lewin, a famous psychologist, was one of the first people to discover that it is often easier to change a group than it is to change an individual. We often look towards others to reference what is appropriate. By changing our lifestyle, and being open about it, we can help normalize conscious consumerism, spark change in others, and shift our collective cultural values. These actions also influence the corporate ‘supply and demand’ chain, sending clear messages to companies about what we do and do not condone.

Aligning Actions with Values

Aligning our actions with our values creates internal harmony. Our actions allow us to ‘claim’ an identity. If it’s important for us to be voters, we vote. If it’s important for us to be environmentalists, we try to create less waste, eat minimal animal products, etc. Ultimately, our individual actions won’t change the world. Nonetheless, there’s an intrinsic value in trying to navigate our way through the world as kindly as possible. And, importantly, we’re not individual agents in this world. We are part of a movement—a collective of people who can inspire us, and who we can inspire.

Build Habits

At first, changing your lifestyle will require effort. But virtually every single thing we do today was once an effort, from our first steps to our routine tooth brushing.

Focusing on building mindful habits can help combat feeling overwhelmed. Habits can make powerful actions effortless.

Learn to Cook Vegan/Vegetarian Meals

Eating fewer animal products is one of the best ways to decrease our environmental footprint. Start out by swapping one meal a week for a plant-based version. Get comfortable cooking in a new way. Once you're comfortable, you can swap a different favorite dish with a vegan version. And then another. Alternatively, you can try out a 30-day vegan challenge, which could just be the amount of time you need to build a new habit.

Build a Less Waste 'Starter Kit’

Think about the items you use daily when you’re out and about, and then find reusable versions of these. Place these items in your bag so you always have them handy. These could include: reusable shopping bags, a reusable water bottle, a fork, a coffee mug, a metal straw, mints in a metal tin (rather than gum), or reusable cloth pads. Once it’s a habit for you to use these ‘starter kit’ items, find another household item that you frequently use and swap it out. And then another.

I hope this post gives you some hope or ideas.


Interested in learning more about veganism? Check out some of the links below:

>> For ethical questions <<

>> For tips on cooking without animal products <<

>> For health questions <<

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