But what can I do?

Don’t ask what your neighbors can do to protect the environment, ask what you can do.

Don’t ask what your neighbors can do to protect the environment, ask what you can do.

If you like me and spend way too much time on social media - for your job, for your volunteer work (if you think FabMo now, you’d be correct) and - increasingly less - for your personal enjoyment, you will have experienced what I am going to rant about right now: hate, vitriol, accusations, trolls whose purpose in life seems to be to annoy the rest of us, and threads that start out as a harmless questions or comments and dissolve into something ugly real quick.

(As an aside, this hasn’t happened on the FabMo page and I am so proud of our community for being so courteous, helpful and welcoming!)

While I expect very little common ground between the different sides on issues of politics and religion there is another topic that I find discussed increasingly aggressively on social media: environmental issues.

From Leaf Blowers to Accusations in 10 Minutes Flat

Here is an example, deliberately chosen from a German group I am part of - lower risk of offending somebody here. My home town in Germany, Konstanz, just declared an environmental state of emergency, something the likes of London or San Francisco have done. If you have never heard of Konstanz, you’d be forgiven, it’s a small town by a big lake right on the Swiss border. The step was so unusual that even the NYT covered it.

Pretty small town declaring environmental emergency

Pretty small town declaring environmental emergency

Now the debate is raging in the local Facebook groups about the sense or nonsense of this action with everybody from climate change deniers to environmental activists chiming in. Mind you, “chiming in” includes everything from measured opinions to crass insults. One theme emerged really quickly in all this mess, I’ll call it “Why don’t you get started?”

Today it was leaf blowers that had everybody up in arms. To paraphrase “if you are all so darn green, why don’t you start with banning leaf blowers? They are noisy, use energy and I hate them.”

Three posts later we were (paraphrased) at “Do you selfish idiots ever think about the people who have to otherwise rake the leaves?” from there we moved to speed limits, pricing of public transportation and how barking dogs are even worse that leaf blowers. What came next, I can only imaging - I bailed before the whole thing inevitably turned to the issue of cleaning up after your dog.

Why am I telling you that story about German leaf blowers and dogs? Because it exemplifies my “Why don’t you get started?” point. Instead of asking herself what she can do to reduce her environmental footprint, the original poster went on the offensive accusing other people of not doing enough - specifically about something that annoys her.

Not helpful.

But being helpful probably wasn’t her goal in the first place.

There Is a Better Way

Let’s try and address the issue of “what can I do?” in a more constructive way.

The enormity of this environmental crisis feels overwhelming and what we all can do about feels inadequate to the point that it becomes easy to say “I can’t do anything about it anyway, so why bother?”

But that is exactly the wrong approach, a crisis like this can only be addressed effectively if a lot of people worldwide are on board and actively supportive. This is something where the pressure from all of us, choices we all make on a daily basis can make a difference. In fact, I believe, it is the only way that we can bring about change: we all have to do our part, however small it may seem, to address it and hope that it will snowball from there. Waiting for the plastic industry to voluntarily forgo plastic production is doomed.

Let’s Talk Sci-Fi for a Moment

Even if you aren’t an avid reader of science fiction, you are probably familiar with a frequently used plot: time travel. The story goes something like this: the hero travels to the past and, despite being careful, changes one thing, one tiny little thing - and it changes the course of history.

Funny, how we believe that traveling to the past will give one person and one small act the power to change history, but we don’t believe that, if we change one little thing today, we can change the future.

Simplistic? Maybe, but empowering nevertheless. I can choose to believe that what I do today will have an impact - and isn’t that better than believing that it doesn’t?

So instead of complaining to somebody else that they should get started and that, unless they sell their gas guzzling car and buy an electric one, it makes no sense for you to reduce your plastic waste - just reduce you plastic waste.

Set an example and be proud of it. Do what is right and believe that it will have an impact. Maybe small at first but others will see you and start adopting “greener” behaviors.

The Story of the Tote

Recently I attended a public speaking workshop, I practiced a speech - you guessed it - about the topic of waste reduction. The example I used to drive home the point that small changes matter was my trusty old canvas bag. I have had that thing for pretty much exactly 10 years; I got it as a gift at my 10th grad school reunion and 20th is coming up in a couple of weeks. I did a back-of-the-envelop calculation recently. The long and short of it: that bag is single-totedly responsible for approx. 6,000 plastic bags not ending up in the landfill.

6,000 - one tote - one person - no hardships involved.

After my speech, one participant said “I had no idea. I will use a tote bag from now on.”

To me that was success. He will do it, he might tell his friends about it, they might tell their friends …

Will it change the course of history? Probably not, but it is a start and if we all do it, it might just change the course of history and help to preserve a livable planet for our kids.

So, grab some FabMo fabric and make a tote, and one for a friend, and some produce baggies (little plastic bags count as well) and share your other ideas with the FabMo community!

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 10.46.01 AM.jpg

GreenTina Baumgartner