One’s got to change the system, or one changes nothing.
— George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Not long ago, The Guardian1 reported on a study that suggested that just 100 companies were responsible for 71 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
100 companies. 71 percent.
Which sounds like an actionable bit of knowledge. Just boycott those 100 and we’re good to go, right?
Except that it turns out those companies are coal, oil, and gas producers that, in general, you and I don’t buy from directly.
So, that means we have to take a two-pronged approach:
- We need to make systemic changes.
- We need to make personal changes.
Systemic changes are up first, because while we can definitely influence things by making small personal changes, we must really kick the system hard to get the actions we want as fast as we need them.
Let me use a real world example to illustrate what I mean.
You probably already recycle your plastic bottles, right? Or maybe you don’t even use them. That’s awesome, and you should be congratulated. It’s important that you keep doing that.
But … as long as the system continues to produce plastic bottles and also doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of people who either can’t or won’t recycle them, and also doesn’t account for the bad actor companies that just dump what they’re supposed to recycle, we still have a huge problem.
Well, I hear you say, we just need to get more people to recycle. Education! Awareness!
To which I say: hogsnarfle.
For one thing, we’ve been running education and awareness programs for decades. They only work if people are receptive to the message and can act on it. (Spoiler alert: The system makes it really, really hard to act on it.)
But more to the point, there’s just too many of us!!
Let’s do some math. Don’t worry, I’ll do all the heavy lifting here.
Coca-Cola2 says that they sell 1.9 billion servings of their drinks in 200 countries every day.
Now, let’s assume we do such a great job of recycling that a whopping 90% of those serving containers are recycled.
That still leaves one hundred and ninety million containers in our landfills, oceans, and by the side of the road.
Every. Single. Day.
(And yes, you could argue that not all of those servings are individually packaged, what with bigger bottles and fountain drinks, but even if you slash that number in half or by two thirds, it’s still mind-boggingly huge. It’s also just the drinks from one company. Think how many other products there are out there?!)
Now let’s be honest with ourselves here. You’ve seen the comments on any social media post. You know what your co-workers and the people in your community can be like.
Can you really see any future in which we have 90% of people doing the right thing 100% of the time?
No, me neither. And I’m an optimist!
So that’s why we need to tackle the systems first. We must have systems that account for real human behaviours, both good and bad.
This is the last explanatory/introductory post. In our next section, we’re going to start kicking the system, beginning with your local government.
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