How small actions really do count

I promised to not let my blog site become one about the Covid-19 crisis, but given how all-pervasive it has become in our daily lives, I can’t ignore its impact on me. This blog post does, however, draw a parallel between this crisis and the environmental one – and looks at the power of small, individual actions, taken together to make big impacts.

I’m writing this while we sit at home in “lockdown”. The kids are learning at home while schools are closed, we’re working from home as much as possible and we are practising “social distancing” with our friends and neighbours. We’ve been told to stay at home to save lives and to save the NHS. Small actions count.

By and large, we are a compliant bunch (for the time being) – the streets are quieter, people are communicating more online, most seem to be respecting the distancing guidelines when out and about. A recent YouGov poll (24 March 2020) stated that 93% of the British public supported the PM’s lockdown measures. We all seem to be getting the message that this is needed and that we all have our part to play as individuals.

Like no other time in recent history, there is lot of responsibility on each individual to do their bit for the greater good. We are quickly accepting that every single one of our actions may have a consequence for someone else. We should stay at home, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of others – to prevent the spread of the virus, and to save lives.

When first faced with this global public health crisis, just like the climate crisis, I felt small and powerless. But now that I’m being asked to do my bit and have been given clear instructions on what to do – handwashing, social distancing – I feel like I’m making a contribution to a bigger effort. It’s actually empowering. When I see others doing it, I feel like I want to do my bit too. Every decision we make – whether to go out, touch something, meet someone, get groceries – could have a serious impact on someone else.

Although many talk of a climate crisis, it rarely feels like a crisis that there is a collective effort to tackle – it depends a lot on the commitments of individuals. But, as a recent BBC Life Scientific episode with Myles Allen explored, many feel that too much is left to the individual to tackle climate change, and that governments and business should step up more. I have yet to read his book, but Mark Earls also offered some useful insights into “herd mentality” around green issues in BBC’s Analysis recently.

It can be a lonely place, making individual environmental changes – making a commitment to flying less while your neighbour takes a city break every month, reducing your meat intake when your friends all order burgers in the pub, trying to reduce paper use at work when your colleague insists on printing all her emails. But I do it because small actions count.

There are so many things that individuals can (and should) do. And doing these things – and sharing them – has the power to pull people together in the same direction, like we’re doing now. Here’s a line from Greta Thunberg’s ‘No one is too small to make a difference’:

Every single person counts. Just like every single emission counts. Every single kilo. Everything counts.

Greta Thunberg, Stockholm Climate March, 2018

This the kind of language that empowers me to take the small actions I take the live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. So much of the environmental debate is about who’s most at fault, or who performs better than whom. But I do feel this is all a distraction from the fact that we all need to do our bit, and do it together. Blaming someone else allows us to get away with not doing anything at all.

The current public health crisis is teaching us that every single action we take as individuals has an impact, on others, or on the world around us. Just like the climate crisis, every purchase we make, every journey we travel, every place we go, we have an impact. I hope that we can come out of this with a better understanding of how we all have a part to play and how if we all do something small, it becomes something big.

Everything counts after all.

What YOU can do

  • Make one personal commitment to individual action on climate change
  • Tell someone else about it and why you’re doing it

One thought on “How small actions really do count

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