Every year, 32% of our plastic trash lands in the ocean. That is almost 25 million tons of trash.
It seems unnecessary to mention how quickly climate change is advancing and how many species are going extinct every year. According to Nasa, 17 of the 18 warmest years since the beginning of weather records have occurred since 2001. Depending on which numbers you trust, between two thousand and one hundred thousand species of animals go extinct every year.
The figures are daunting and it is only fair to say that there is little we can do ourselves to change things or to stop mass extinction from happening. But by doing nothing, every single one of us makes themselves not only a bystander but complicit in an unparalleled ecocide and mass murder.
The argument that tends to come up most often when talking about environmental mindfulness is “but what difference does it make if I make a change if nobody else does?”
When I was twelve years old, I made myself very unpopular by telling my friends to skip plastic bags, using graphic examples of starved seabirds with their stomachs full of plastic they mistook for food. To teach me and my moral high horse a lesson, they started using even more plastic bags. The reasoning: If everybody else is doing it, I might as well. With the number of plastic bags that are out there, how likely is it that mine in particular is going to kill a turtle? And even if it did, the animal would most likely die from somebody else’s trash anyway.
On the one hand, that is correct. Every year, 32% of our plastic trash lands in the ocean. That is almost 25 million tons of trash. But in spite, or more precisely because of these frankly depressing numbers, do basic morals not apply when it comes to public consciousness about the environment?
The prevailing opinion of people seems to range somewhere between “if everybody is doing it, it’s okay”, “I can’t change anything, so it’s alright if I continue to knowingly do wrong”, and “I might be destroying the planet but at least I’m not an arrogant, annoying, eco-terrorist buzzkill and that is so much better.”
Even if it was possible to disregard all other species on our planet, our environmental destruction plays a part in wars and genocide (such as climate change in the Syrian Civil War, as demonstrated in a study by the Columbia University in 2015), and we are poisoning our own food chain with micro-plastic. Even if you couldn’t care less about peanut shaped turtles and starved seals, and you don’t mind spending the summer sweating away at 45 degrees in Magaluf, there is really no excuse to not at least try to effect a change on a personal level.
Some might argue that environmentalism is focused too much on the consumer. They rightfully say that politicians are the ones who must make changes in legislation, and they have to make large-scale pollution illegal, as well as standing up to soulless corporations. And yes, without sanctions or taxation on single-use plastic, changes in the wrapping industry are likely to slowly go ahead, and the fact that my energy provider sells me 15% renewable energies in my contract as the “green packet” proves how much needs to be done in the further development of sustainable energies. But using the government as an excuse to not take individual action is a feeble excuse.
We are citizens in a democracy. We can vote people into office that care about environmental issues, we can write to our local MPs, join pressure groups… And if that is a task too time and effort consuming, we can at least change our own habits as consumers, try to spread environmental awareness, take care of the things we eat, use public transport or bike to work.
Without question, skipping one straw, casting one vote, eating one vegan meal or cycling to work once is not going to solve our problems. But everybody can make little changes, bit by bit, and set little goals to live more sustainably. We need to get out of the habit of blaming everything on the bigger picture and start to change the smaller picture according to our own abilities.
Laziness, collective guilt and resignation aren’t good enough reasons to do nothing. It is time to accept that, “I can’t change the things I can’t, so I’m not going to make the changes I can!” This just isn’t a good enough excuse. Whatever science fiction may suggest, as of now, this planet is the only one we have and if mere hairless primates are capable to cause a mass extinction that rivals the time an asteroid killed off all the dinosaurs, we should also be able to do something against it. Every single one of us.