Written by Keara Murphy, ESLLC 2017-2018
The other week I was incredibly disheartened and had a moment where I asked myself, “Why should I even care anymore? If I am not living off-grid, eating only local flora that I grew myself in the middle of some jungle where I befriended the local fauna and am wearing the same t-shirt and jeans for the rest of my life, then why am I even trying to promote environmental sustainability?” I quite honestly felt like a hypocrite, telling people to recycle and care about the trees when I myself buy things from large chain businesses, fly back and forth between Colorado and Minnesota, and willingly pay tuition and fees to a University where compost bins often have to be actively searched for. I told myself global warming was going to continue happening no matter how hard I tried to change my and other peoples’ ways. There were a couple minutes where I told myself that I would start drinking out of plastic water bottles and buying the cheapest versions of soap, produce, clothes, and everything else no matter how awful they were for the environment because why does what I do matter when I can’t change how the entire human population interacts with the environment?
I was wrong though. After a few hours of feeling this way I was able to pick myself up again and rediscover my passion for promoting environmental sustainability and my usual self fell back into place.
I normally not one to talk about something somewhat emotional like this or share my personal experiences but this disheartenment is something I think is incredibly important to talk about as I’m certain many, if not all, like minded individuals go through the same thoughts at one point or another. It is no secret that majority of environmentalists do something that isn’t necessarily “environmentally friendly” and that can sometimes seem to negate all of the things they do that is “environmentally friendly” and the message they are trying to spread. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that doing something is better than doing nothing.
It may seem like a very individual experience when we try to implement ecofriendly practices into our daily life but it is important to remember that there are more and more people who are taking the same actions as you every day. Many of these people may be friends and family who are following in your footsteps. A couple days ago I was on the phone with my dad who was excited because he was in the process of building a 3D printer. While I was happy that he had a new project, the environmentally conscious part of my brain was screaming at the thought of all the plastic being wasted. That was until he told me that he had found plastic filament made out of recycled water bottles and materials and was using that because he had thought about all of the things I had told him about the importance of recycling. This was the same man who once drank out of a new plastic water bottle at every meal.
The point I am trying to make with this little anecdote is that while it may seem like what we do is pointless, that the earth will continue to crumble in the hands of carbon emissions, plastic bags, and plugged outlets, we are making more of an impact than you think. Something really cheesy that my high school had plastered on every poster was “One Small Action Causes a Chain Reaction.” While, of course, I rolled my eyes every time I saw those bolded blue words pasted over images of kittens and hugging children, I now think about the truth found in those words and how quickly our habits spread and are adopted by others.
A study published by Rob Henderson explores group polarization and why we tend to “follow the crowd.” In the study, Henderson mentions how “to learn what is correct, we look at what other people are doing.” This means that what we believe is correct and our daily actions are largely influenced by what others do. Therefore, the reverse is in effect, meaning what we do influences other people as well. Furthermore, 70-80% of the time we spend awake is spent using some form of communication with other people. So even though it can be disheartening when we see glaciers melting and forests disappearing, it is so important to remember even the smallest of actions can create this truly impactful chain reaction and lead us to a better future.
Henderson, Rob. “The Science Behind Why People Follow the Crowd.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 24 May 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/after-service/201705/the-science-behind-why-people-follow-the-crowd.