Creating a sustainable and equitable world requires personal action as well as political action. There are things we can all do to make a difference. Some of these are very small, but by doing them and talking about them, we model ethical living to our friends and family. Others might be inspired to join us, or at the very least to think about their actions a bit more. The more people are making good decisions as consumers and citizens, the more normal it becomes to do so.
Practical tips and information are available in lots of other places, so let me give a few broad examples of the kinds of things we can do.
- Reduce our ‘ecological footprint’. The best known aspect of this is carbon footprint, but it’s wider than that. Our resource use needs to come down across the board, from water to metals to wood. This is a lifetime project, and we’re all going to need to do it, either by choice or because we just run out of resources. If you’re like me, you might want to get a headstart!
- Shop ethically. We enjoy huge consumer choice in the Western world, but we need to exercise a little more caution in what we spend our money on. From conflict diamonds to unfair coffee prices, to sweatshops and child labour, there are a thousand hidden human costs behind the low prices we pay. Find out about your favourite brands and products, and if they’re not pursuing ethical policies, get in touch. You don’t have to boycott everything, but try and engage positively and make things better.
- Take responsibility. Globalisation has brought us great benefits in travel, cultural exchange, and availability of goods. But we can’t claim the benefits of a ‘global village’ without taking responsibility for the problems of such a system. Don’t stop reading and learning about how our lives are connected with those in other parts of the world.
- Choose a simpler life. Consumerism is a treadmill of bigger and better things, and it’s easy to get obsessed with the next thing we’re going to buy rather than enjoy what we already have. Having fewer, better possessions is ultimately going to be more rewarding than having loads of stuff and throwing it away. Live cheaper, and you can work less too!
- Pursue equality. The word ‘equality’ gives some people shivers, because they can’t help but think of communism. There’s no need for that, and we’re not communists, but all the evidence suggests that more equal societies are happier, less stressed, and have lower crime rates. We want to reduce the gap between rich and poor, both within our own country, and internationally.
- Live generously. There is a place for wealth, because wealth can be a force for good in the right hands. People using money well, living generously with their time and their money, will make more difference than any number of boycotts and political protests. Generosity gives purpose to wealth.
- Start small. If you’re the president of the USA, perhaps you can save the world. If you’re not, just work on the little bit of it that you’re in charge of. Start with your own home – make it as energy efficient as you can afford. Get outside and care for your bit of earth, whether it’s a back garden, a balcony or a windowsill – grow stuff, and invite wildlife into your space. Then move outwards. Take on your office, your school, your street. Join your local Transition Town movement and get to work on your village, town or city.
- Talk about all of this. What I’m describing here is more of an attitude than a set of actions. It’s a way of life, a way of being towards the world, and I think it’s a hopeful one rather than a self-denying one. It’s also a way of life that works best in community, where we can be supported in our choices, and encourage others too. So talk about the way you want to live, discuss it with your partner, your children. Raise questions with your friends – not to judge their lifestyles, but to model something different. Too many injustices and abuses of the earth go unnoticed, and never get fixed simply because we ignore them.