Thursday, 9 February 2012

“I’m only one person - What difference can I make?”

One of the biggest obstacles for many of us when it comes to taking action on climate change is the sense of our own actions being totally insignificant - dwarfed by the scale of the problem.

The “whether I stop flying for my holidays makes no difference in the grand scheme of things unless everyone else stops too” train of thought.

And it’s a hard case to argue against.

Can one person really make all that much difference to such a huge global problem? It’s hard to be wholly confident on that front. But you can be one hundred percent sure that if none of us act because none of us believe we can make any difference, or because we don’t see any point in changing until everyone else has changed too, then nothing will happen.

None of us can change everything. But all of us can change something. And many of the changes we need to make to tackle climate change and stop undermining our ecosystem services are changes worth making for their own sake anyway. A sustainable and stable economy, stronger community, local food, energy security, a more equal society – tell me these aren’t things worth having – climate change or no climate change.

Ok, so just you alone choosing to head down to the farmers market rather than the supermarket on a Saturday morning may not immediately halt the climate crisis or have any significant impact on UK climate emissions.

But it will be significant for the local farmers whose food you buy. The farmers market in my home town of Stroud is now one of the best in the country. It’s brought the town and the community back to life and it means it’s now really easy to get hold of all the food you need to get you through the week, all from the market. And most of the farmers there say they would have gone out of business long ago if it weren’t for the market.

It may be hard to see the difference each one of us can make to the global picture but changing the way we live can certainly make a difference at a local scale, and it may well make much more difference than you’d think.

If you struggle to have any faith in the idea that you buying local food will make a blind bit of difference to global climate change then do it because you want to help strengthen your local community, or because local food is better for your health (O’Kane, 2012), or because it tastes so much better. Or even because you want to meet some new people – recent research in the US found that on average people who shopped at farmers markets came away with food that had 10 times less food miles, and had 10 times as many conversations while buying, it as people that shopped at supermarkets. (McKibben, 2007). I go down to the Farmers Market at home to catch up with old family friends as much as to do my shopping.

Or rather than giving up flying to reduce your carbon footprint, decide not to fly because overland travel is more fun; you meet more people along the way, it’s guaranteed to be much more of an adventure and you end up with a whole load more stories to tell afterwards.

Changes you make to the way you live may not immediately save the world, but they will have some impact, and they might just make you happier.

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