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I wrote my first blog a few weeks ago and one of the commenters pointed out that my suggestions for green resolutions were small and not necessarily going to have a major impact if only one person is doing it. So I asked myself, what is the impact of one person on global warming and climate change? What good does it really do if I don’t use plastic bag or plastic bottles or reduce my water use or put in the light bulbs, other than stroking my ego for being green and making me sound like Gerald Broflovsk in the South Park episode Smug Alert .

I could spend a lot of time talking about how many gallons of oil are saved by me choosing cloth bags, or how many fewer bird died because I didn’t use a plastic water bottle. But I would rather talk about the power of one person to make a difference by making a choice. It is easy to say one person doesn’t make a difference. Good thing Gandhi, the Dalai Lama or MLK didn’t think that way. One person, acting alone, in a vacuum, probably has little impact but that doesn’t happen. Even nutters like the Unabomber had to interact with people once in a while even if it was rarely. We all are in contact with lots of other people all the time.

I choose to not use plastic bags. I am probably a bit more extreme in my use of cloth bags than most. I put my vegetables, grains, bread, and fruit in cloth bags, as opposed to plastic. I also get credit for that when I shop at a store – saving about 40 cents per trip to the store for NOT bagging these things in plastic in addition to my main shopping bags credits. Add to that the 10 cents per bag for my larger bag, I get back 70 cents per week – multiple that times 52 weeks its $36 per year. Of course I buy a lot of these items at the farmers market. Also my family is not producing waste because we don’t bring it in the house to start with. I also do not use plastic bags for my garbage either. I use paper. I rinse out and dry anything that I am throwing out and compost our food. If I have food to throw out, I’ll put it in the bag right as I am taking it out. Since making these changes my family of four produces less than one paper bag of trash a week and it is still just food wrapping. It’s not even worth it to pay for trash pick-up.  

I think that the more important thing to discuss is the impact my choices have had on others. The store closest to my house never has paper bags out so most people have no idea that is even an option there. When I go there, especially when it is on my way home and I don’t have my bags with me, I ask for paper. I have heard people after me in line be surprised they had paper and ask for paper as well. So right there are fewer plastic bags in use. If more people use paper there, the store would start leaving them out because it was more convenient and even more people would know paper is an option.

Additionally, I talk about not using plastic bags. Most people don’t even think about the impact of plastic and some really don’t care. But when you tell them that over a year they can save money by bringing their own bags, they are more willing to listen. When you tell them that plastic waste cleanup is costing them additional money, they are even more willing to listen. About 4 billion plastic bags are thrown away annually. Public agencies in California spend in excess of $303 million annually in litter abatement – which means each Californian pay $8 a year to clean up plastic bags.  Over the past 25 years, plastic bags have been one of the top items collected on International Coastal Cleanup Day. If plastic bags were banned each person would save approximately $18 to $30 per person annually – that is between $72 and $120 for my family. Even if that isn’t an environmental argument, it still accomplishes the job of reducing plastic bags and getting people’s attention.

Also, my kids are learning to think about environmental issues: to not use plastic bags, drink from water fountains rather than bottles, recycle, shop at the farmers market and buy local.  I hear them telling their teachers and their friends about these things. So has my partner, my friends, and even my colleagues. I am teaching environmental sociology and team teaching sociology of food this semester. My co-teacher is already decided to make some of these changes just from prepping the class. Her three kids are also learning about this as well. Because I have shown these individuals that is not hard to do bring your own bottle, shop with canvas bags, reduce your waste, and recycle more. The two ladies who baby sit for my kids have made changes as well from coming here. They both have decided to use cloth towels rather than paper ones, canvas bags, and bringing their own bottles. Right there is 7 people who are changing their ways because I made a choice. If by example, each of them only changes 2 others, maybe their boy/girl friend or their mom or their best friend, then we make a huge difference by doing little things. Soon you have enough people who are behaving in environmental ways that companies pay attention; city councils make new rules, etc.

So, yeah – one person making these changes does make a difference on the environment even if they are not being preachy about it.

Originally posted to DrSocCrunchyMama on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 04:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  answer.. (14+ / 0-)

    alone, no. With a multiplier effect, heck yes.

    This Rover crossed over.. Willie Nelson, written by Dorothy Fields

    by Karl Rover on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 04:35:20 PM PST

  •  You are not one person, we are a many headed (11+ / 0-)

    hive mind. I like some of your suggestions and will incorporate, with modifications into my similar routine. I leave cloth bags back in the car when done putting the stuff away.

    One thing to keep in mind is that paper bags are not necessarily more environmentally benign. They require the long fiber older tree pulp, if I recall correctly. Not a criticism, but encouragement.

    There is no they, We will sink or swim together.... We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness

    by GDbot on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:44:11 PM PST

  •  What "Change"? What "Environment"? (24+ / 0-)

    Depends upon the change and depends upon the environment.

    Anything that ever happened in human history began with one person.  We shouldn't denigrate individual action, even if it seems futile.

    I spend a lot of time around Harvard and MIT.  Sometimes I go to lectures where the experts are not at all aware of what another expert may have said yesterday or a few months ago.  From time to time, I mention something and someone that
    these MIT or Harvard experts don't know about but can use.  I will probably never know whether I made any difference but, when something like that happens, I say "I've done my good deed for the day."

    This week it was Howard Gardner of Harvard, he of the multiple intelligences, talking at the Graduate School of Education.  Afterwards, I asked him if he was aware of Elinor Ostrom's work on common pool resources and their governance.  He had heard of her but didn't know her work.  I spelled her name for him and he wrote it down.  Perhaps this will mean something to his work which also deals with the intellectual and ethical commons.  Perhaps it won't.  I will give Gardner a reference to the video and text of Ostrom's Nobel speech, a good introduction to  her work so at least he will have that.

    There are many other stories like that and not just from me.  Will they make a difference?  Who knows?  All you can do is what your heart and mind leads you to do.

    Don't let the naysayers get you down, DrSocMama.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:49:49 PM PST

  •  If you want proof one person can change the (9+ / 0-)

    environment, look no farther than Thomas Midgley.

    The guy who discovered Freons.

    And also the guy who discovered leaded gasoline.

    We don't want our country back, we want our country FORWARD. --Eclectablog

    by Samer on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 09:44:20 PM PST

  •  Individual action is all there is (11+ / 0-)

    Collective action is just a bunch of individual actions. We all have to make changes in our lives and arguing that individual change doesn't make a difference is, more often than not, a good excuse not to have to make any sacrifices or behavioral changes.

    Here's the other thing: if the people who claim to want to help the environment or combat climate change or ecological destruction can't be bothered to change the way they live, then what the hell hope do we have? Any effective activism has to be backed by individual behavior or else you're just a hypocrite who's easy to dismiss and deride.

    There's a solution to climate change and environmental destruction: it's for all of us to use far less energy and resources. Frankly, I think we're all going to get this whether or not we like it, due to both the collapse of the American empire and the fact that industrial civilization can't really run without fossil fuels. But it is the solution. Doing it is a challenge since so many of us aren't used to living that way and too greatly fear it, but the solution itself is quite straightforward.

    Maybe I'm just cynical, but I suspect that a good many self-proclaimed environmentalists have little interest in actually making the necessary sacrifices to live in a more sustainable world. Hopefully that's just cynicism.

    Good diary. Thank you.

    Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

    by aimlessmind on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 09:50:47 PM PST

    •  a thousand recs to you today (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DRo, AllisonInSeattle

      How big is your personal carbon footprint?

      by ban nock on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 05:33:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Individual action is only half the answer (4+ / 0-)

      Each person has a private side and a public side, it's just that as Americans we have been taught to overlook the public side. per se.

      As you walk about town and talk to others, you exercise your local public side. As we discuss things at DKos we start affecting the national public side. Some of this is on purpose, some of this is accidental.

      One of the U.S.A's biggest problems is that the most influential voices,  those orchestrating the creation of our view of ourselves -- those who tell Americans what we should believe that we are -- are largely enmeshed in a giant and self-interested corporate conspiracy to tell us that only money matters and that the environment is not worth worrying about.

      Therefore we need to both live our truth AND try to organize with others to expose the lies. Our individual actions matter and they can be rendered even more effective by organizing our public selves deliberately.

      •  Oh, I definitely agree (0+ / 0-)

        The public side is a piece of it, though one that takes a different kind of consideration than the personal side. But I still consider that public engagement to be individual action, and a public advocacy that isn't backed by personal change is, in my mind, largely worthless.

        I advocate plenty publicly, both on my blog and in my day-to-day life. But, of course, you have to advocate in effective ways. How you do that varies dramatically depending on your audience, their sympathy to your cause, and their particular lives.

        Of The Hands - Thoughts on voluntary poverty, homesteading, farming, reconnecting to the land, doing good work, and muddling through the new no-growth economy.

        by aimlessmind on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 03:50:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I almost never use plastic bags (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, DRo, AZ Sphinx Moth

    I have my own bag for that.   Fortunately store keepers here are pretty good about letting you use your own bag.   I can see how some stores might insist that you use a plastic store bag, though.

    •  You have to learn to be quick. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bisbonian, AllisonInSeattle

      Countless times the bagger has my items bagged in plastic before I get my bags ready. I have learned to have my chico bags unfolded before I reach the register. I have to make a point to use them before I begin to fish out my wallet. I get some surprised looks sometimes but never had the situation that my bags were refused. A growing number of cities are banning plastic bags. My own, Bisbee, has banned them but the stores haven't complied yet. Plastic bag flags on the cactus is an ugly sight that I hope will be part of the past.

  •  nice. (10+ / 0-)

    I feel the same way you do. I look at the example I'm setting, I try to teach my kids to live sustainably and explain my decisions to them in the store for all to hear.

    One of the conversations we have a lot is about why I ride my bike even though I have a public transit pass. One reason is VISIBILITY. I think riding bikes is contagious.

    And if I can contribute to changing perceptions and get other people out on bikes, that's a great impact not just in terms of social/carbon impact, it also helps improve air quality and health.

    Maybe just maybe our foremothers and our forefathers came to this land in different ships. But we're all in the same boat now. - John Lewis

    by bluesheep on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 12:36:53 AM PST

  •  Thank you! (10+ / 0-)

    I feel a little silly when I offer my cloth bag and the bagger puts things in plastic before putting them  in the cloth bag.  Sadly, here in Texas, they have been trained to use plastic  by filling the carosels with plastic bag holders (I'm looking at you, Walmart, and the culture you started) .  I do it anyway, and try to be polite to those who just don't get it.

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 05:11:27 AM PST

    •  My point above to another commenter (5+ / 0-)

      You have to be quick with your bags. I apologize when I ask the bagger to re-bag them in my cloth bags. I make a point that I'm saving the store the cost of the plastic. I also avoid the plastic for the fruit and veggies. I was asked once wasn't I worried about them getting dirty. Hah, where do you think they come from? The earth. How are they transported? In crates, sometimes in open trucks. Plus, I wash them as part of the food preparation anyway.

      Yes, you are right. It helps the cause to be polite.

    •  I often don't get my cloth bag off my shoulder in (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DRo, Old Gardener, AllisonInSeattle

      time before they put the items in plastic bag and a few times when I have them take them out, they will bunch up the now "used" plastic bag and throw it in the trash. I comment that I think it probably can be reused and one time I even asked for the discarded plastic bag, so I could at least reuse and recycle it.  I'm working on having the cloth bags in my hands, perhaps waving them around wildly might help!

      I don't have the statistic in front of me but it's my understanding that only some relatively small percentage of people, say 5-10% have to make some change for it have a huge effect on the greater society and for industry to take notice.

    •  cloth bags are kind of expected at my co-op (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AllisonInSeattle, DRo

      they are clever enough to sell them at the check out too. Plastic is rampant everywhere else though :-(

      I've made great strides not using paper and disposables, but I still use a few paper towels, primarily for draining bacon, a triple guilty pleasure.

      -7.75, -6.05 And these wars; they can't be won Does anyone know or care how they begun?-Matt Bellamy

      by nicolemm on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:03:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  China and Gandhi (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53, Old Gardener, nicolemm

    Gandhi affected change through political organizing.  Sure he bought homespun, but the thing that brought change wasn't his personal practice but that he got a whole country to follow his lead.

    If the entire United States tomorrow decided to go 100% solar, banned fossil fuels, got rid of all plastic and went all zero waste, it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference when it comes to global warming as long as China keeps building coal plants as fast as they are.  Even if the US put draconian tariffs on Chinese goods or refused to import Chinese goods, they have a large enough middle class there already that is more populous than the entire United States.  They don't need us.

    There are only two things worth doing right now when it comes to global warming:  stripping the fossil fuels industry of its political power, and forcing China to decrease emissions.

    I'm a zero waste person myself, and I think it's commendable, but it won't cause worthwhile change if the first two things still continue.  It is a better goal to get more and better Democrats elected, so we have the political power to regulate the fossil fuels industry and also do campaign finance reform, and put in some trade treaties with China that have real environmental teeth.

    •  I understand your point but (5+ / 0-)

      our representatives just don't get it. If enough of their constituents has made the shift already then they will eventually. Also, social media can play a factor. The ripple effect can travel to other countries quicker than changes in political policy.

      I agree that my personal practice can not override the effects of the Alberta tar sands operation (for one example) but I can't just sit here and do nothing. I admire the protesters on the front line. I'm admittedly too afraid to take on that type of action.

      As far as waiting for the political process? Umm, we have waited too long and it might be too late already!

      I will explain to my granddaughter when she is old enough to question this period in time that I did everything in my power short of putting my life on the line to make the change happen. The choice for me is be part of her life or be labelled a terrorist and rot in jail.

    •  Saying USA going 100% green would make zero diff (0+ / 0-)

      is absurd -- and wrong.

      Of course it would make a difference, a huge difference.

      Just like China's 1 child policy has made a difference -- for the entire rest of the world.

      Sheesh.

      This health care system is a moral atrocity. Dr. Ralphdog

      by AllisonInSeattle on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 01:35:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  China and Gandhi (9+ / 0-)

    Gandhi would never have been able to organize politically if he didn't set his own personal example. He would have been ignored as a hypocrite, mocked the way people talk of Gore.

    If China were measured only by the carbon they produce for their own use and consumption they would be far from our individual footprint and they would never reach us. They lead the world in solar panel construction. Very few have automobiles and though more drive all the time they are dwarfed by the number who comute on electric powered bicycles and public transportation.

    Shifting blame to the fossil fuel industry is simply ducking responsibility, avoiding making the changes we need to make ourselves. Blaming big oil is much easier than skipping the trip to the Caribbean, much easier than not buying the new car, much easier than giving up the extra house in Malibu. Much easier than skipping the trip across half a continent to visit a National Park.

    How many backpacks would John Muir own? How many skis? Does one individual need 3 bicycles made of composite metals fit for the tour de France? Do we need specialized clothing for hobbies?

    Skipping on plastic might seem a paltry contribution. It leads to greater awareness and larger contributions. Our kids will save the world.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 05:50:38 AM PST

    •  Climate change requires systemic change (0+ / 0-)

      Even if every person on Earth did what they could to reduce their energy use, we would not be able to prevent climate change.  The global economy is built around fossil fuels, and we must address that in order to solve the problem.  

      Targeting Bil Oil is NOT "ducking responsibility."  It's embracing the responsibility to stop climate change before it destroys civilization as we know it.  Do you think that taking on the most profitable industry that the world has ever known will be easy?  This is hardly the work of those who seek to avoid the problem.  

      On President's Day, 350.org is rallying in DC to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.  I'll be there.  I'm doing it because I know that no matter how much I try to reduce my energy use, if projects like Keystone continue to get built then our planet will not be the same.  Please consider joining us.

  •  The problem is that using your own bag doesn't (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SocialistArkie, organicus

    make a difference, even if everyone does it.  I don't drive and don't have a car, neither do I eat meat.  On my own those things don't make a huge difference, but collectively thay can.  Not using plastic bags is such a tiny thing that even en masse it only serves to make feel better about themselves.  To name drop Gandhi and MLK as if they had pushed anything so mundane and basic is absurd.  They knew that we as individuals could make a difference when we acted in a way that made a difference.  Civil disobedience is so far from what you're talking about it amazing.

    Can an individual make a difference?  Yes, most definitely, but not by their choice in bags or by using a different lightbulb.

  •  How do you define "meaningful"? (3+ / 0-)

    What's meaningful to one person may not be so to another.  But, it's probably fair to say that, for most people, anything that allows us to feel that our actions are more in line with our ethics, is "meaningful."

  •  the guy who shut down a UK power plant (3+ / 0-)

    Broke through security they thought was impenetrable, pushed buttons at random until something tripped, and cut the UK's carbon emissions by 1% until they restarted it.  They still don't know who did it.

    Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

    by Visceral on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 01:06:45 PM PST

  •  I use my plastic bags (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leema, AllisonInSeattle

    to put my recycling in.  I've been recycling so long, way before it was cool, back when you had to go to the dump and use the segregated bins and battle the yellow jackets to open the bin doors. It's nothing new. Plenty of people are conservation conscious. I half ass compost by adding all my kitchen veggie matter in the yard after it has "cured" in plastic coffee containers, which I also recycle. I'd love to have solar panels but I live in the woods, so I'll have to move to get them I suppose....

  •  We all can make a difference. Even the smallest.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AllisonInSeattle

    can only help.

    “The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” — Marcus Aurelius

    by LamontCranston on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 03:53:15 PM PST

  •  It's more than plastic bags (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nicolemm, AllisonInSeattle

    Let's talk about our food choices.
    One of the reasons I decided to stop eating meat is because of the environmental impact.
    I've also cut down on my consumption of other animal products- eggs, dairy, etc. The only time I "eat" eggs are when I buy baked goods that were made with eggs. I try to avoid dairy as much as possible.

    I take public transportation as much as I can. I realize not everyone can make this choice-some communities don't have great public transportation systems.
    When I make long trips, I try to take the bus or Amatrak. Again, I realize this isn't an option for everyone and sometimes you just HAVE to drive.

    I don't think just ONE person can make a huge difference but together if we all make a bunch of little changes, it can make a difference.

    I'm glad you were able to influence others. I try to tell others my reason for taking public transportation over my car, why I choose to eschew meat, etc. but I do it in a  way I don't see as preachy. "Yeah, I like taking the bus because it's better for the environment" and maybe it gets the other person to think about how their choices impact the environment.

  •  A Personal Post and a Tip! Please check... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nicolemm, AllisonInSeattle

    I'm a college teacher. As my classes end, I ask my students to use one less plastic bottle a day "for me"...by my count, if they did that I've pulled about half a milliob bottles out of the environment. Not much, but can you do it too?

    Please google "Young Voices for the Planet"--a series of truly amazing short videos of kids who have made a difference.

  •  Makes a difference (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AllisonInSeattle

    Here in San Luis Obispo County, CA, plastic bags have been outlawed for larger stores starting last year, and customers must bring their own bags or pay $0.10 per paper bag.  Everyone is getting in the habit of bringing reusable bags to the grocery store.  The law has made a huge reduction of plastic going to the landfill.  Changing norms can be done.

    Obama is still my guy.

    by AKguy on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:14:19 PM PST

    •  According to the Mercury News (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pedmom, mkinny, AllisonInSeattle

      the plastic bag ban in San Jose has led to a 59% reduction in trash on city streets, and an 89% reduction of trash in the storm drain system.  The dire predictions of people refusing to shop in the city or using their cloth bags to shoplift vast amounts of merchandise have, amazingly enough, not become reality.  We just carry our cloth bags in the car, use them, and don't think twice about it.

      When I started using fabric mesh bags for produce instead of the plastic ones at the farmer's market, the vendors looked startled.  Now they don't even raise an eyebrow.

      "Teachers are the enemies of ignorance. If the teachers win, Rush and his allies lose." Stolen from Sidnora, 12/15/12 with thanks!

      by kmoore61 on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:27:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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