Each individual citizen can play a role as “ordinary hero,” in transforming society for the benefit of future generations.
However, optimism without realism is delusional. We must start with nature and with our impact on the natural world, which is the source of our life and economy. We must reconcile realism regarding our ecological challenges with optimism about our future. With optimism based on reality and not just wishful thinking, we can make actual progress.
We face very real environmental urgencies – depleted ocean fisheries, species loss, soil erosion, toxic pollution, global warming and a decline in cheap energy. A 2005 UN assessment found that two thirds of all natural services to humankind were in decline.
To begin our recovery as a civilization, we must make an effort to preserve the two elements of our world that sustain us: the environment and our communities. To do this, we must adopt personal and social strategies that “relocalize” our lifestyles, nutrition, and the products and energy we consume.
We can enjoy richer lives, a higher quality of life, even while consuming less of the earth’s resources. This is the challenge of achieving “richer goals, with simpler means.” We discover that the real quality of life comes from family, community, creativity and nature, not from consumption.
Humanity requires large-scale change, but eventually, change comes down to the daily choices and actions that make large-scale changes possible. We must act as if the age of ecological enlightenment is here. These are some ways we can share the burden of change and be part of the solution:
Stop hydrocarbon use: Walk, ride a bike, or take public transport. Never buy another vehicle if possible. Individual cars will eventually be phased out of society. Urge politicians to create non-polluting, public transportation. The government of BC is contemplating spending $2 billion to build more highways for cars. This money should be going to build comfortable, convenient, fast light rail urban transport systems, like they have in Europe.
Grow and eat local food: Dining on exotic food that is wrapped in plastic and shipped around the world with fossil fuels is not sustainable. Help preserve local agricultural land and start a backyard or community garden. To impress guests: serve something you grew.
Slow down consumption: We must virtually stop consuming certain products and slow down all consumption. We need to embrace simple virtues and avoid shopping for new fashions and useless trinkets. Make global responsibility your fashion statement. Shop second hand. Recycle everything.
Build community: Industrial, urban society abandoned the communities that once sustained humanity. We cannot solve the ecological challenge as individuals, but we can as neighbourhoods. Find ways that you can help your own neighbourhood community become more ecologically responsible.
Believe. To change the world, one must have faith in personal power. To foster personal confidence, begin somewhere, anywhere, probably in your most local environment.
Stand up: Making a stand for a principle sharpens our own ideas and induces others to sharpen their ideas. When one person stands up, others are inspired to stand up.
Have courage. Challenging conventional thinking may attract ridicule. To speak out requires courage, not the courage of movie heroes, but the quiet courage of decent people doing the right thing. Do not be intimidated by the consequences of having a conscience.
Research. Would-be reformers need to understand not only the problem, but also the forces that preserve the problem. To change society, one must possess a genuine curiosity about how society works and how nature works.
Use your skills: The best way to change the world is through the things you already know how to do and love to do. Use your skills, knowledge and passions. Share your knowledge with others and give them hope and resources to help solve the problems they will face.
Practice self-reflection: Ecology asks us to be humble, not proud. We have to learn how to learn from nature. To help change the world, we must avoid ego mistakes, pride and aggressiveness. Individuals, groups and social movements become their own worst enemy when they lack self-critique.
We are each the Ordinary Hero who changes the world. Large-scale public policy follows the personal choices we make. Politicians and political parties rarely lead massive social change. They respond to public change. Committed, organized citizens have always led important social transformation. Personal action defeats the feeling of hopelessness. The choices we make can preserve a quality of life for future generations.
Rex Weyler is a co-founder of Greenpeace International and the author of “Greenpeace: The Inside Story”. His new book, “The Jesus Sayings”, is a historical look at the authentic message from the first century Jewish sage. He is currently writing a book about ecology and economy.