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As tempted I am to think that all the plastic, paper, metal and everything else I recycle, all the second hand shopping I do and all the meat I choose not to eat is saving the planet, unfortunately, science does not support my thoughts. In a study made in 2012, there were no significant differences in the ecological footprint of green consumers and regular, "brown", consumers. In a recent blog post, blogger Alden Wicker takes it as far as saying that conscious consumerism is a lie, and that all it does is to make us conscious consumers feel better about ourselves. Despite many good points in the blog, I feel a strong need to comment on this statement.
Believing that individual choices play no role is an extremely dangerous path to go down and in that sense, we would not have to worry about anything at all. Ever. Of course, on a universal scale, this is also true. But right here and now I believe we can do a lot. The most important thing being that we can influence other people´s way of thinking. We have to be loud about the most pressing problems, pinpoint what needs to be done and at the same time put pressure on companies and politicians. Our small actions in recycling and consuming, although little or no environmental impact, function as examples to our children, our future politicians and entrepreneurs. To a large extent, our children inherit our values and refine them to even better values in the future if we are lucky.
Some time ago, I posted something on Facebook stating that we have to cut down on meat and milk. This provoked some people, feeling that it should be everyones own choice whether to consume meat and dairy or not, and that such value-related things should not be posted on social medias. The problem is just that it is not an individual choice - if people cut down on meat, it will directly affect how much meat and dairy is produced and thereby how much green house gas emissions are being puffed into the air. A good example is alternative milk. There has been a massive uprising of milk alternatives here in Finland in recent years, and even milk giant companies now have their own lines of vegetable-based milk products. At the same time, regular milk consumption has gone down. So clearly, the need for non-dairy products has been heard.
Then what about the recycling, should I continue to sort plastics? Circular economy right now is more popular than ever. Plastic waste is being turned into clothing and goods, bio-sewage is being turned into energy etc. And most importantly, money is being pumped into research and solutions. Once we make it economically beneficial for companies to recycle, they will most certainly do so. By being part of this recycling trend and making a big fuzz out of it, we sow seeds of circular thinking around us, some of which might come up with effective solutions and lead to something big. So yes, I will continue to recycle. I will also continue to make a big deal of my choices on social media. In my opinion, the worst alternative is to quietly sit around and do nothing.
“If you think we can't change the world, it just means you're not one of those who will.”
― Jacque Fresco
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The contributors to this blog are the marine biologists Maria Koivisto (left) and Anu Riihimäki (right).