Saving the planet: how to find your missing ‘why’
The key to saving the planet is more about the ‘why’ than the ‘how’. But not the big why — future generations and all that stuff — the little why. The ‘why’ inside each of us: our love for nature, our sadness and anger about its destruction. But it seems to be missing. And this is the critical piece of the puzzle. ‘How’ won’t fit into place until ‘why’ is there. We are all capable of having that ‘why’ (we were born with it in fact), but because we turn away from the truth we shut it down. Well I want to help you get it back. The future of this planet depends on it.
Living greener — why it’s not a trendy lifestyle choice but necessary for our survival
In 2017 I had a huge wake-up call. I learned the stark reality of how 165 million tonnes of plastic waste in the world’s oceans is impacting on marine life and just how pervasive it is. 2017 was the year I accepted that if I swim at the beach now I am swimming amongst tiny plastic particles, and if I eat seafood I am ingesting plastic. It was the year I tried to get my head around the fact that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. This is a situation that humankind has created in a very short time, and now we are facing an environmental crisis.
The urgency of this situation is so very clear to me. But it boggles my mind that most people (and governments and businesses) just don’t seem to realise this. It is an undeniable fact that we need to act now if we are to save this planet. Each and every one of us. Because it is OUR planet — not the government’s, not big business, it belongs to all of us, and more importantly to our children, and theirs. But the purpose of this article is not to launch into what we need to do. It seems to me what people need first, and most of all, is the motivation to act. So many people put ‘green’ in the too-hard basket and end up doing nothing. And they do this for several reasons. If you’re one of those people and want to know how to change the situation, keep reading…
“It is an undeniable fact that we need to act now if we are to save this planet. Each and every one of us”.
How to get motivated to live greener: finding your ‘why’
As Simon Sinek said in a very popular TED talk, “Start with why”. There’s no point jumping to the ‘how’ if you don’t have the ‘why’. It just won’t work. So here are the six key things you need to do to find your ‘why’ for a greener life.
1. It’s time to move past the denial stage. Unfortunately ignoring the problem will not make it go away. We need to face the truth and feel the pain, and then talk about it with others. Admittedly that is easier said than done, but it’s the only way forward. The way out of our environmental crisis is into it — grab it by the horns, stare it in the face and accept the reality of it. That is the key to changing it — acknowledging and accepting what is. Maybe instead of the latest reality show you could watch that documentary you’d normally skip past, or instead of the latest celebrity gossip pick up a copy of National Geographic. Recent must-watch ocean-themed productions include the film Blue and David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II. Netflix and other paid content providers also have a great selection. And then talk about it with your friends and family. About how it makes you feel and about the role you might be playing. It is this shared empowerment that will inspire action to address the issue (remember the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”?).
2. Learn the facts and how you might be contributing. I can’t watch disturbing images of animals suffering; I avoid it like the plague. But last year I forced myself to look at a picture of a turtle in obvious agony getting a plastic straw removed from its nostril. I did this only so I could show it to someone else, as I figured if people can see the devastating impacts of plastic on our beautiful planet then maybe they will think twice the next time they are offered a straw. (BTW I haven’t watched the full video yet, that was just one frame — baby steps 😊). Social media is a fantastic resource for raising your awareness about these issues (see some suggested links below).
You might wonder how your decisions contribute to the bigger problem. Take the plastic pollution problem, which is one of the top environmental issues today: while most of us don’t throw plastic on the street, there are plenty of people out there who do, and there is also a lot that gets there by accident. Most of this is not captured by street sweepers or litter traps in the drainage system and so it ends up in the ocean. To put it simply, the only way (most) plastic is going to stop getting into the ocean is if the production of single-use plastic ceases. And while governments and retailers have an important role in this, they tend to move too slowly. So ultimately it comes down to the consumer — if we keep generating demand for it, manufacturers will keep making it and the problem will persist.
Start thinking about where your food comes from, where your clothes are made, where your waste goes. Start asking yourself ‘What is the impact of this choice/action/purchase?’ and whether you could make a better one. Future articles in this blog, and my upcoming email course, will also help you to answer those questions.
3. Connect with nature. It’s where we came from and our well-being relies on having a regular connection with the natural world. Human beings have become disconnected from nature in the last century and with that we lost the understanding of it that indigenous people had — people who lived in harmony and interdependence with the earth for thousands of years. To sever a relationship with something on which we depend for our survival is like cutting our umbilical cord.
Spend time in nature every day if possible, even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes. Walk, run, swim in the ocean or just sit somewhere quiet and watch/listen/be. If you’re like me and live in the city (for now at least) then spend time in your backyard or nearest park. We only have a small yard but we have a veggie garden, as well as some native shrubs and a bird bath, so we get some gorgeous native birds visiting. And make a commitment to get out of the city into wilder environments maybe once a month or so. If you start paying attention to nature you’ll begin to see its beauty and its complexity, and to appreciate how fragile it is. Natural environments are also good for the soul and great for relieving stress!
4. Speak out, ask questions and challenge the status quo. It is easy to get discouraged, especially when other people don’t seem to care, and retailers, companies or governments are unsupportive. The way I’ve dealt with this is to become more vocal. I’m not an extrovert by any means, but my love for the planet helped me overcome my self-consciousness.
When retailers go to give me a plastic bag now I (politely) refuse in a voice loud enough for others to hear, saying for example that plastic bags are hazardous to marine life and there is more than enough plastic on the planet already. And if it’s a store whose bags I’ve seen littering the street then I’ll mention that and ask if they’re considering more sustainable alternatives (yes, embarrassingly NSW is the only Australian state to not have a ban on plastic bags!). So overcome any fear of ruffling feathers or self-consciousness you may have, and speak your mind — to retailers, to your local/state/federal government and to people you see doing the wrong thing. Knowing you’re standing up for the planet (and the quality of your future here) is great for one’s motivation!
5. Watch the good news — regularly! While we need to face up to the reality of environmental destruction, it is important to also focus on all the good that is happening out there (and there is so much of it —visit the green media links provided below). It is easy to get down about the bad stuff, so make sure you balance it with the good stuff. This can also give you inspiration to make positive green changes in your own life.
6. Know that your efforts are making a difference. Global consciousness is shifting, slowly but surely, and it is only through the collective action of every one of us, particularly in our role as consumers, that we can maintain (or even increase) the momentum.
So here is a summary of some simple actions you can take TODAY to find your ‘why’ for the planet:
- Start adding environmental films/docos to your watch list. After watching talk about it — share your thoughts & feelings with others.
- Spend at least 5 minutes a day in some form of natural environment (even if this is just your local park). Switch off your phone, immerse yourself in your surroundings and be 100% present (you won’t get the same benefit if you’re distracted by other things!).
- Follow green media companies like Tree Hugger or Green Matters, which publish a lot of ‘good news’. This is also a good way to learn more about the state of our planet, as well as subscribing to weekly news on environmental issues (e.g. The Guardian’s weekly roundup) and following organisations that are raising awareness about current issues e.g. Story of Stuff, Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Once you start paying attention to the earth you’ll start feeling, and once you can feel, then you’ll begin to act — to start making new choices and change your habits for the better. You might even have an ‘a-ha!’ moment that launches you into action. You’ll notice that you find the extra time and you make the extra effort, because you care about the future of this planet. And the good news is, while it might take a bit of effort at first to learn what you need to and form new habits, eventually you’ll find you have more time, more money and your life will be more rewarding — and this will make your ‘why’ even stronger!