The human condition is constantly evolving, which may be news to those who believe it to be shallow and self-obsessed. As time goes on, the way we look at things is influenced both by the past and by the needs of the present. So while the 80s were considered to be a cynical time, and the 90s were about activism, the last decade became something in between the two – keen to do right, but terrified of appearing earnest and preachy.
This can be seen in a lot of the awareness movements and even charity telethons of the past decade. Although the issue of doing the right thing is always implicit in such movements, the underlying impression was that participants were keen to give a message of “Yes, I’m being noble, but I don’t want you to think that I am noble myself, so I will gently mock myself while doing so”. We are almost scared of appearing to care about something, so we mock ourselves before anyone else gets the chance.
In environmental terms this is often a matter of people saying “I’m just taking this to the recycling bank – yes, I’m one of those people, I’m sorry.”. Should we really be scared of being seen to care? Perhaps not. However, as the human condition changes with time, it might not be a bad way of going about things. It makes people think “I may be a little cynical about the issue, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything at all to help”. Better a participating cynic than someone who cares but won’t dare appear to.
Doing the right things to protect the environment is something that is not unlike charity. It is often a compromise on our behalf, and something that calls on us to go above and beyond what is naturally required of us. And like charity, environmental concern can sometimes become something that it should never be – competitive. No-one should ever be made to feel guilty because their efforts do not amount to as much actual achievement as someone else’s. The fact that people have gone to the extent of doing something to help the environment is what matters.
The truth is that some people will get more done, even without necessarily putting in more effort. Some people are better connected, or more natural fundraisers, awareness-raisers or leaders than others might be. The important numbers when it comes to environmental help are not how much more someone has done than everyone else, but how much everyone has done when it is all counted up. Yet in some cases there are individuals who miss this point.
It’s not a competition. If someone views the issue of collecting items for recycling as a matter for one-upmanship, then they really are going about it for the wrong reasons. By all means those who do a lot should be congratulated, but the truth of the matter is that it all adds up and making it into a battle is pretty unedifying considering the importance of the work being done. By working together, a lot more can be achieved.
When we are asked what we, ourselves, do to protect the environment, it is easy to become embarrassed under questioning and feel that what we are actually doing is nothing much. Compared to the size of the problems we can come to the conclusion that our contribution is either to small to really be worthwhile and quit altogether, or potentially that we are being lazy and should be ashamed of our pitiful contribution. It is usually not true that either of these is the case, but we can often find more to do.
Something simple, which is often forgotten by people who are conditioned to feel that green living is all about recycling and leaving the car at home, is the important issue of saving energy. When you have lights or extraneous appliances running all day, the effect is a greater demand on the nearest energy supply. This in turn causes a greater demand on the resources which go into providing this energy, and leaves us with a deficit of natural resources. So you can help by doing something as simple as turning off the TV rather than leaving it on standby.
Something else we can all do is avoid turning the heating on when it does not need to be. If the weather outside is freezing, or close to being so, then of course we need to heat our homes. But if it is slightly chilly, wearing a sweater will be enough to keep most of us warm without needing to place a further demand on the energy supply, and as a nice side benefit it saves us money on our bills.