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Dickinson to Durban » Climate Change » Do the Little Actions Matter?

Do the Little Actions Matter?

I have always operated under the belief that the actions of individual people can amount to global change. After all, society is the product of every individual’s way of life. Thus, society will only be altered when enough people believe change is necessary and act on those beliefs. Our society has caused the phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change to occur, so as Greenpeace argues, we should be able to slow climate change through our actions on a personal level. In Greenpeace’s article, How to Save the Climate, they list changes individuals ought to make to their everyday lives in order to live more sustainably. When each person reduces their annual carbon dioxide emissions to 1.3 tons, climate change will not continue to amplify (Greenpeace, 6). After reading this article, I was ashamed of my inadequate actions to reduce my personal footprint, but I was also empowered by the fact that Greenpeace parallels my view that individuals can take action which will make a difference. Greenpeace left me thinking that indeed I can save the world by recycling, traveling on public transportation, buy organic food, and planting a tree.

However, as I delved into Maniates’s Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World? I began to question the essence of the argument I have used for years to justify persistently encouraging my family to recycle, compost, and walk everywhere. He argues that it is not individual actions which will “save the world,” rather it is the overhaul and restructuring of institutions. The belief that personal commitments to sustainability can make a difference is simply a reflection of our upbringing in an individualistic and consumerist society. When we think we are making choices to be more sustainable, he states that we are choosing between “cosmetic choices” rather than real ones because what we see is dictated by industries (Maniates, 48). Essentially, Americans are unable to transcend our own personal bubbles and “come together and develop political muscle sufficient to alter institutional arrangements that drive pervasive consumerism” (37). This is what would make a difference and slow climate change, not petty things like using reusable shopping bags.

These two articles have left me torn. It is much easier to believe that if we all do our part and follow Greenpeace’s guide, climate change will not be an issue. Realistically, if we are going to prevent climate change from having catastrophic effects, we must attack the institutional structure which allows us to produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. But it is not realistic that many people will make the effort to go beyond recycling and this is where the problem lies. There is a gap between what we believe is ethical and necessary for the planet and what we as a society are willing to do about it. To combat climate change, both individual actions on a daily basis and reconstruction of societal structure are necessary. If efforts are combined, individuals will be rallied into a movement which will have the power to make large scale changes needed to slow climate change.

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