You Don't Have To Be An Environmentalist To Help The Planet

You Don't Have To Be An Environmentalist To Help Save The World

We're all trying our best, and that shouldn't go unnoticed.

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It seems to me that the most common way someone gets "turned off" from activism is when they begin to feel as if they don't know or do enough. I've seen people get overwhelmed because they aren't doing as much as others, and consequently, stop doing anything at all because they doubt themselves. This is so unfortunate, because anyone who's passionate about something should, of course, be able to advocate for that passion without any expectation for how much or how well they do it.

I recently saw a well-written post of affirmation:

Seeing this, I realized that we aren't giving ourselves enough credit. Plenty of us are dedicated to a cause that we're passionate about but don't have the time or energy to add more to our list of things to be concerned with. It doesn't make us bad people, because it isn't that we don't care. We do! We just need to realize that when we're doing our best, we should be proud of ourselves instead of feeling guilty about the things that we aren't doing.

Guilt, however, is exactly what you're supposed to feel. The photos of fish caught in plastic bags or videos of the little plastic bits floating around the ocean are intended to guilt you into responsibly taking care of your waste and being a better environmentalist. It's a good tactic, honestly, because sometimes you have to pull at people's heartstrings to get them to pay attention to the real issues. But there are plenty of circumstances where good people just simply don't have the time or ability to live up to the standards of those hardcore environmentalists.

In this Twitter thread, I was introduced to something I had never thought about before: the incredible amount of waste generated by the medical industry for the sake of sterilization.

Of course, this can be viewed from many different perspectives. You're bound to have environmentalists who want to find an alternative, while the medical professionals will tell you that single-use plastics is the only way to truly guarantee sterilization, which is so critical to the success of modern medicine. This example just goes to show that someone may do everything they can to try to save the planet, but there will always be exceptions that are out of their control. I'm sure there are plenty of vegan doctors who use cloth grocery bags and reusable coffee mugs, but generate tons of plastic waste in their profession every day because so many medical tools are plastic-wrapped in packaging that cannot be recycled.

This is only one scenario, but it's a good example to those who get frustrated when people aren't doing everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint. And you can argue that those extreme environmentalists who may be living vegan, zero waste lives may be blind to other issues in our modern world. Many people care a great deal about climate change but don't have the ability to buy carbon offsets when they fly or purchase sustainably made clothing because of the high price tags.

So, the lesson to keep in mind is that no one is perfect. We're all passionate about different things so no one can be expected to be aware of all the problems in the world that need addressing. If you are working towards one goal, there's nothing wrong with focusing on it. Just don't close yourself off from others' goals, because it's important to keep an open mind and see where they're coming from. Climate change has become a severe enough problem that no one can afford to ignore it. However, not every single person has to drop everything and dedicate themselves to a zero waste, vegan, environmentalist life. It comes down to the little things. If every state in America bans Styrofoam like Maine did, then we will be able to stop adding Styrofoam to the oceans where it will sit forever. Similarly, if everyone remembers their reusable bags and responsibly recycles as many things as possible, then together we can eliminate the need for plastic bags and greatly reduce the amount of waste going into landfills.

Not everyone wants to be an environmentalist, and that's okay. Just like we can't all cure cancer or solve world hunger, it's going to take a lot of people working together to begin to reverse climate change. It isn't going to require massive sacrifices from everyone, but it's going to require us to make eco-friendly choices when we're presented with the opportunities, and it's going to require us to think about the consequences of our actions. We can start small, and we can achieve great things together!

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

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Vinicius Amano

@viniciusamano

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Being Sustainable Is Hard But It's Not Impossible

Although we've all heard of climate change and have witnessed the disastrous effects that humans have had on the environment, it still seems like most people are not subscribing to the ideals of sustainability.

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Sustainability is a tricky term. Most people that hear about it eventually put in the back of their minds, the same place they put "student loans" and "crippling depression." Most people know that to adhere to this ideal would mean to change how they live.

Sustainability is about adopting behaviors and systems that will ensure that the Earth is around for many generations after ours. Sustainability aims to preserve the Earth in terms of seven generations ahead. Seven generations after ours and societies on Earth will be using entirely different systems than what we do now, therefore, we should start this process now to ensure that they will be able to live comfortably and sustainably.

This is where most people tune out, understandably so. It's hard for us to think about the implications of our actions and how they will affect life on Earth much after our own deaths. It suddenly seems like an incomprehensible problem that no one person can ever solve.

"My actions won't make a difference," most people say, convinced that just because they stop eating meat or buying plastic or start drinking from paper straws, that nothing will change. However, what they fail to consider is how their actions will influence the minds of others around them, and one person who stops eating meat or using plastic sends a ripple effect through the people surrounding them. One person making lifestyle changes in the name of sustainability leads others to suddenly consider, "maybe I should eat less meat?" or "maybe I won't use single-use plastics anymore?"

The idea is not that any one person picking up plastic on the beach is going to save the planet, but rather that through education and awareness, we will all take small steps to preserve our home. Large groups of people all taking small steps leads to big changes, and politics and the economy will follow the demand of the people.

The most difficult thing for most people to do is to adopt those small behavioral changes. Not everyone can afford to stop eating meat, but everyone can afford to opt out of single-use plastics. Buying a personal water bottle is one easy way to do this. Stop buying plastic water bottles just to throw them away. If you need to buy them, make sure to recycle them. Instead of taking plastic silverware and straws from restaurants, bring your own reusable set.

Understandably, most of you are already cringing. It's hard to go against the grain and commit to living a plastic-free lifestyle for the sake of sustainability. And what about when you go to Chipotle with your zero-waste kit and somebody asks you a question about why you have that? Fear or convincing themselves that it's "inconvenient" will keep most of you from adopting these little changes that, over time, make a huge difference in the amount of plastic we put in our oceans.

Although we can't all be leaders of huge sustainability efforts to clean our oceans or buy an electric car, we can all make small changes to mitigate this tragic problem. On our current track, the last half of our lives will be starkly different from the first half, for the worse. Educate yourself and be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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