Monday, July 5, 2010

In praise of small steps

Grist, an online environmental magazine, has a regular column, "Ask Umbra," which answers green living and environmental questions for its readers. Most recently, a reader named Patty asked the following of Umbra:

But right now with the oil spill taking over the Gulf and ruining so many ecosystems, I just don't know if anything I do really makes a difference. ...

I live in southern Louisiana and remember feeling the same way after Katrina. ... Why even bother? What can the little things I do matter when compared to one big horrible thing like this?

I hope you disagree with me and tell me why I should care.

As I've shared before, I can relate to Patty's feelings of being overwhelmed. Here's what Umbra shared in response (emphasis added):

Being overwhelmed by a big crisis may cause us to think that our personal actions are meaningless. But this is where we’re wrong, dear Patty.

Just this week New York Magazine noted that, "recent neuroscience and behavioral-economics research suggest that changing people's individual behavior may be the best way to grow a movement."

Furthermore, an analysis from the Garrison Institute’s Climate Mind Behavior Project (CMB) and the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that "Americans can reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 15 percent -- or one billion tons of global warming pollution -- through collective personal actions that require little to no cost."

So go ahead and sweat the small stuff! The "little things" we all do are not futile. In fact, little things add up fast. Especially if you do them, and then talk to your friends and family so that they start doing them too. That’s the magic of the multiplier effect.

Grist put it best: "Practiced consistently, small steps facilitate both gradual evolution and rapid revolution for positive lasting change. Of course institutional and policy change is crucial, but it doesn't happen on its own; it happens when people fight for it, motivated by their values."

Umbra ends with a few famous quotes about doing small things with great love (Mother Teresa), about how small groups of committed citizens are the only thing that can change the world (Margaret Meade), and one of my favorites, from Dr. Seuss' The Lorax:
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

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