We make hundreds, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of decisions every day. These decisions range from the smallest selections, like what toothpaste to buy, to large, pivotal choices that significantly change the course of your life, like moving to Amsterdam. I’m starting to learn that every choice we make, every action we do or choose not to, what we say and what we do not, leaves a lasting mark on the world and the people around us.
We live our lives in routines, mindlessly disappearing into school or work, going to the same places, repeating the same activities, often forgetting to be present in each moment. Living largely unaware of the consequences of what we do, not paying attention to how we are interacting with the world. We are so far removed from the processes and people that produce what we eat, wear, see, and use, that we forget they exist at all.
Did you know that almost a third of arable land on earth is used not to directly feed us, but is used to feed the chickens, pigs, and cattle that end up on our dinner tables? That producing a single calorie of meat requires twenty times more water than one calorie of wheat? That livestock is estimated to be responsible for about 18% of human-induced greenhouse gases, as a pound of animal protein requires ten times more fossil fuels to produce than plant protein? That animal agriculture has even been linked to the pollution of our oceans and seas, our soil and our drinking water? The environmental and ethical case for eating less meat has never been stronger.
Moving on to plastic, did you know that every year worldwide we are now producing almost 300 million tons of plastic, of which half is for single use, and this number only continues to increase? That within the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than in the entire last century? That currently about 500 billion plastic bags are being used globally, meaning more than one million plastic bags are used every minute? That each year over 8 million tons of this plastic is dumped into our oceans, suffocating our marine life, destroying our ecosystems, and even threatening our own health? Simple steps like refusing plastic straws at restaurants, and bringing around a re-usable water bottle and grocery bag can have significant effects on reducing our plastic waste.
Finally, in terms of waste, did you know that worldwide we produce more than 300 million tons of paper? That it takes about 5 liters of water to produce a single piece of A4 paper? That this year, the world will produce over 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage, and that the typical person in a developed country produces about 2.6 pounds of garbage a day? Something as easy as recycling can have a great deal of impact: recycling one ton of paper can save about 26,500 liters of water, 682.5 gallons of oil, and 17 trees.
Perhaps you know all this, and loathe the people who constantly mention these facts to you as if to reprimand you for your decisions. But I’m not telling you to do all of these suggestions, or even trying to say that I do them. Too often people take the approach of trying to humiliate others into making better choices, but this leads to others either avoiding these difficult conversations and as such these truths completely, or even those people entirely.
Accepting these realities doesn’t mean having to change your lifestyle completely. I’m vegetarian, but I’m not vegan and I have bought leather products in the last few months. I have bought my own books, used plastic products when buying food at shops rather than bringing my own silverware, and placed recyclable products in the trash when I couldn’t find any recycle bins nearby. We shouldn’t be shaming each other for the personal choices we make because we are all human, we are all fallible, and we also all have a different definition of what living our best life entails and what we can handle.
However, being aware of these choices, living each day moment-by-moment, acknowledging that I am actively shaping this world and my choices directly affect the environment around me, has led me to accept my shortcomings and seek to change them, one at a time. I’ve slowly shifted from pescetarianism to vegetarianism, I’ve joined two libraries to reduce my paper waste from books, I get take-away very sparingly and cook with local ingredients much more, and I try to take time each week to be present and reflect on my humanity, either through writing or meditation. I still make mistakes, and many of them, but I’m trying to be more aware of what they are so when I make them, I can seek to understand why they happened and what I can do to work on them.
We all have the capability to be present, and this doesn’t require us to drastically change who we are. We all are just searching for our best way to be happy, and we should be lifting each other up for our accomplishments and helping each other stand up when we fall. The key message here is that we need to start really understanding our actions, and accepting the power our everyday choices have in shaping the world we live in. Only by doing so can we seek to transform our lives for the better, to reconnect with the processes that create our lives, and in doing so redefine our very environment and the people we share this world with.
And in case you do want to know some tips to small, everyday changes we can make to positively affect the environment, please read this helpful article by National Geographic on 10 things you can do to save the ocean!