The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 26, 2009

Reusable Bags and Stainless Steel Bottles – Do our personal changes matter at all?

I’m depressed. Down in the dumps. Anxious and overwhelmed. For over two years I’ve focused on personal change: eliminating disposable plastic from my life, reducing my energy consumption, and living as simply as possible. But when I step out my front door, the evidence of overconsumption and waste smacks me squarely in the head: piles of trash, pallets of cheap plastic crap, plastic bags and bottles and packaging. Turning on the TV, I am bombarded by messages to Buy. More. Stuff!

Are any of my individual actions making any difference in the bigger picture at all?

Last month, about twenty different people forwarded me an article by Derrick Jensen in Orion Magazine, “Forget Shorter Showers: Why personal change does not equal political change.” I resisted reading it because I feared it would cause me to question the personal actions I’ve been engaged in and promoting on this blog. But in the last few weeks, I’ve come to the point of questioning the efficacy of personal change on my own. So I figured, how could it hurt? Living in denial of the bigger picture certainly doesn’t help.

Despite the logical fallacies and blatant hyperbole that characterize his first paragraph,

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons…

Jensen goes on to make some important points:

1) Taking shorter showers will not solve the global water crisis when individuals only use about 10% of available water and the rest is consumed by agriculture and industry.

2) Reducing our personal energy consumption is not enough when the vast majority is used for commercial, industrial, corporate, agribusiness and government interests.

3) Cutting our own personal waste is not enough when municipal waste accounts for only 3% of the total waste production in the United States.

4) Shifting our personal spending within our current destructive industrial economy will not be enough to reverse the environmental damage wrought by that very economy.

Jensen goes on to explain,

I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

He’s right that all of our personal changes will not reverse the destruction of our environment without massive political and social change as well. But (and this is a BIG BUT) where does he think the will for political change comes from in the first place?

Last November, I criticized a statement made by Obama that “we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective.” I responded:

Changing lightbulbs can help to change people’s minds. Changing lightbulbs is a gateway action that can lead to other kinds of changes: changing the way a person votes, for example. Individual actions help to create awareness, and it’s awareness that creates the climate for political change. Because WE are the government. And the government doesn’t change unless we do.

Each act of change we make as individuals creates a greater personal investment in the outcomes of those actions. We first make changes for ourselves. We feel like we are doing our part. We learn that all of us are responsible for creating a healthy world. And then we come to understand, as I have, that while those actions are important for us as humans, they are not enough to ensure our survival as a species. If we care about that (and there are some who actually don’t) we have to do more. But how can we go further if we haven’t taken those first personal steps?

In a reaction to a comment on her blog, Green LA Girl Siel writes,

I do think that essay makes some good points, but one thing I wish it focused on more is that often, it’s the personal changes that actually lead people to get involved politically. I began with taking shorter showers, then got curious about the bigger issues about water in California, then wrote a post about it and have been getting more involved with the issue….

Personal change and political change are hardly mutually exclusive — The two really work in conjunction with each other. I think it’s the very people who start off taking shorter showers who push for laws like the water conservation mandates that went into effect in L.A., that helped convince the judge who made the ruling that farmers need to conserve water because salmon need water too.

Other bloggers have been tackling this issue as well.

Kendra Langdon Juskus from Flourish criticizes Jensen’s article from a religious perspective, and questions his assumptions about human beings’ potential for both acts of creation as well as destruction. And she too makes the connection between our personal actions and the greater good they can lead to:

I do not read my Bible simply in order to feel at peace or pleased about my day. I read my Bible so that my small, personal disciplines may inform how I interact with others, and how I participate in God’s plan for his world. A similar trajectory may be the culmination of personal disciplines like taking shorter showers in a more effective act like restoring a watershed with other conservationists. But to say that small steps are meaningless is to dissuade people not only from those small, individual disciplines, but also from the greater fruits they may bear.

Megan Dietz of The Sunny Way finds fault with Jensen’s premise that nothing less than dismantling our current model of civilization is needed to solve our environmental problems:

Jensen is taking a vast leap. Our problems are not industry and capitalism; our problems are carbon emissions, wasted resources, and inequality. Rather than ripping down the whole system—which has brought unprecedented wealth, health, and education to millions of people—why not put our energies into recreating that system so that waste, emissions, and inequality are no longer a part of it? Isn’t there a chance that our ingenuity and creativity and capacity for growth can save us from the problems created by less developed versions of our ingenuity and creativity and capacity for growth?


Taking a shorter shower might not appreciably change the world, but developing ourselves—our creativity and our sense of care for the whole of creation, oceans and industries and everything in between—certainly does. For it is only in embracing ever-broader points of view that we can see clearly enough to create new ways of living and thinking.

Elise Ertel from the journal Elephant argues that shifting consumer spending actually does make a bigger difference than Jensen imagines:

If we are really intent on making a statement and sparking change, we need to disrupt the economic flow. The little things (your decision to buy recycled toilet-paper or start riding your bike to work) send the loudest message. Every small decision you make effect the bottom line of corporations. If they see that consumers are no longer willing to impact the environment by driving high-emissions vehicles, they will change. Believe me when I say that the Prius was not created because Toyota has a soft spot for the environment. Businesses react to the demands of consumers.

This might be good news for Candace Uhlmeyer of Owl’s Farm who laments one of the major obstacles to political involvement: personal exhaustion.

I spend much of my time thinking about how I can lower my own impact on the environment, but my participation in anything political is limited to buying my electricity from Green Mountain or using Credo wireless service for my husband’s cell phone….

Now that I’m into my seventh decade on this planet, and beholden to economically and environmentally expensive technologies for my very existence (not to mention my never-ending dependence on the pharmaceutical industry to keep my arteries unclogged and my blood flowing properly), I am deeply troubled by the fact that I like my life inside the old wire fence of our little compound; I like my job, even though I’ve sold out to America’s odd notion of corporate-based, for-profit education. But the idea of spending my limited free time in further activism (beyond my considerable involvement when I was younger) is nearly unthinkable. I’m just tired.

I’m tired too. But unlike Uhlmeyer, I’m only into my 5th decade, not 7th, and I’d like to think I still have energy to get out there and stir things up (with the help of some fair trade organic caffeine.)

Fortunately, college student Jinnie from Real Gators Are Green has the youth, energy, and spirit to focus on both personal and political actions. She enthuses:

Is it still important to reduce, reuse and recycle? Of course. Little things do help a little bit. That plastic bag you recycle instead of throwing into the trash could be the plastic bag that would have otherwise killed a fish or a whale. Maybe it’s just for my own peace of mind, but I still like to think that one person can make a difference. But in order for one person to make a difference, we have to gain support for a cause, and we have to be active. So, stop reading (yes, I’m telling you to stop reading my blog…) and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Maybe being overwhelmed and depressed by the seeming ineffectiveness of our personal actions is not a bad thing IF if causes us to rethink our strategies and emboldens us to take bigger steps.

Of course, writing a blog is one way to increase the impact of our personal choices by inspiring others to make similar changes and take action.

Or maybe the small steps we each make to shift our spending to “greener” companies within the corporate industrial structure is enough.

What do you think? Please take a moment to read Jensen’s article. Are you willing to take bigger actions? Why or why not?

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Louis Vuitton
13 years ago

The people who read this blog and Beth as well are at or on the road to enlightenment. I don’t however, see this spreading to the extent necessary to save humanity from itself. In the race between desire and enlightenment the contest has been unequal and, as you mentioned, desire is promoted by the economic system that promotes and sustains it. Capitalism has institutionalized desire in the shape of business, further casting the path of enlightenment in deep shade.

14 years ago

Lara, no need to apologize for your English – es mas, mas mejor que mi espanol! (and I can't stick the special Spanish characters on here, either)

In response, I'd argue that for us the new flat screen TV or iPod or Blackberry is the exact equivalent of the mirror for the Indians. It is new technology in both cases and equally magical. We have as little idea of how our gadgets work as the Indians did of the mirror.

As far as material desire being intrinsic, all life on earth seeks to grasp and expand until it meets opposition either from other forms of life or from the environment being too cold, too hot, too dry. It is part of the design that all but assures survival under the most adverse circumstances but it is definitely unsuitable to our situation, where we can endlessly produce more stuff. By breaking free of the nature that produced us, we threaten nature itself.

I make the case that for all our intelligence, we are no different in our drive to grasp all we can, just as the plant seeks the sun. Witness people like Oprah, who, enabled with fabulous wealth, proceed to buy huge estates and not just one but many! She meets no obstacles to expansion and so she grasps for more, no different than any animal or plant though with far more of an impact on the earth! Such consumption is absurdly past all possible need, yet we admire the rich and crave what they have. In Oprah's case we ignore her hyper-consumption and instead hail her as a great humanitarian, as we've done with the fabulously wealthy before her.

But we as humans have the ability, unique in all life on earth, to find enlightenment. This enlightenment was what the Buddha spoke about so long ago, so it is not news. He asked people to look at the situation of human life and take action to end the suffering that comes with the territory – that is, the suffering that comes from insatiable desire which is innate.

The people who read this blog and Beth as well are at or on the road to enlightenment. I don't however, see this spreading to the extent necessary to save humanity from itself. In the race between desire and enlightenment the contest has been unequal and, as you mentioned, desire is promoted by the economic system that promotes and sustains it. Capitalism has institutionalized desire in the shape of business, further casting the path of enlightenment in deep shade.

Enlightenment comes with time and the wish to escape the treadmill described by Goethe who said, "From desire I rush to satisfaction. From satisfaction I leap to desire". Goethe died in the early 19th century, but that was life then, was long before him and is still so today.

14 years ago

The first step I took was learning about BPA and taking the steps to eliminate BPA from my daughter in the form of baby bottles to purchasing the Safe Sippy through a friend where they were selling them ONLY on E-Bay at the time.

I then found your site, I had heard about the Take Back the Filter campaign and began collecting them and saving them without even knowing you or your blog. In fact, I still have them and haven't mailed them in yet, because they serve as a reminder of consumption but also of where I began.

The little things DO matter because they start us to question the motives and reasoning behind that changed action. When looking at it, the socio-psychology behind it is that we want to understand the world around us and have it fit into what we understand. However, if we learn that an action we are doing is harming something else and we have empathy about what is occurring, we will change by either changing our actions or our identity. Usually, a bit of both happens, usually with small simple changes, like short showers.

For me, I research everything to the nth degree, it used to not matter as much, but with having a child, I have changed my viewpoint on life in general and us as a collective. I know from my own viewpoint that I make my choices and people ask questions, then those around me start to make changes. I joined a CSA, then soon so many people at my work are joining and falling in love with going to the farmer's market, using reusable bags, biking more, etc. With these experiences I learn that the little ones matter.

Overall, yes, just looking at the little things, they don't matter in a grand scheme, but that's the surface. What matters, is what happens after the little things. The changes within the person and then the people, the community, etc. Yes, changing sooner will be better for all, so talking about our beliefs with our friends, with our neighbors, with our communities will be the change that may instigate wider little changes that lead to big changes.

The little change to go across the street and talk to you neighbor about plastic and if they would like some advice on how to reduce their plastic is a little change that can lead to a big change. For me, going across the street to ask for their used glass jars of pasta sauce started a conversation of about conservation and composting and the saving of our natural resources.

I just have to say, thank you Beth, you are an inspiration. We all go through moments where we question what it is we are doing in our own lives and if it or any of it matters, it helps to define us. If you choose to stop your campaign, stop blogging, go back to your way of life, all I have to say is thank you. Thank you for everything that you have done over these past few years, you have personally affected my life in ways I cannot explain and I have never met you nor spoken with you. Your simple act of starting a blog has been important in the shaping of my life, thank you for your small act of kindness.


14 years ago

i accidently found your site one day and have learned alot that i did not know and i have changed from not buying and using plastics to trash pickup for the first ime in my life i have not had any trash to take to the curb what little plastic i had bought before my no plastic days i recycle i compost everything biodegradable and burn all other paperlike products that i get once a week have a firepit and lite up i have saved alot of money and lost weight thanks to you…. have a mobile home on a half acre that is now paid for cars that are good on gas and are now paid for just got done paying off my credit cards and getting rid of them they are plastic… i am trying to spread the word by not buying things going to thrift stores if i have to. canvas bags clothe napkins not using toliet paper except for number two… have water shower head with pause button on it dribbles water on pause as you soap up then un pause to rinse off only shower four times instead of seven a week.make my own laundry detergent wash but hang dry electric bills have gotten smaller. turn off vampire electric everything on strips and turn off when leaving or going to bed or not using…have compostable toliet uses no water or electric …drink only water out of sink or coffee have a well for water and septic tank for waste but have to empty less often thanks to you…am not extreme yet but am trying passing the word to all friends and family write and send emails to five companys a week about trash waste and recycling and the use of plastics in their products and sent emails to obama if you change one person at a time will take awhile but it will spread there is a movement out there we will save the earth give it time to planted the seeds but keep watering and weeding you will watch it take off and grow strong…..

14 years ago


If you look at the whole picture in the terms that we are industry and agriculture – then individual contribution accounts for much more. If you choose to live simply, you are effectively causing less widgets to be manufactured and less "industry" to be using up resources and power to produce that for you. So, if you look at your own personal trash can for throwing away a broken toaster… it might only be part of the 3% total household contribution. However, by widespread promotion of the idea to fix your own toaster instead of just throwing it away – you are contributing to reducing the larger industrial portion.

The article begins with Horrific history that has been overcome and the author seems to be implying that it didn't come from (in the case of slavery) personally loving your neighbor. I disagree with his take on this because no policy can be derived or sucessfully implemented without first having community support. This kind of support starts with a few outspoken people who affect a few others and so on. In your own home, teaching your children to respect others and resources.

These simple things have a multiplicative effect that form the basis for social change.


14 years ago

I see a striking omission in the assertion that personal commitment to earth-in-mind living doesn't make a difference. Behind faceless business and government institutions who bare a more significant role in pollution and waste are real live people, individuals, and all their values, beliefs, and traditions which ultimately permeate into the principles and practices of those institutions. Individual efforts, such as those made by the Fake Plastic Fish blog, are vitally important to affecting government and business — don't give up!

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

Hi Beth,

Of course personal changes matter. All our actions and connections with others builds momentum. I always suspect naysayers whatever their ideas as they are simply sowing confusion, when clear-headed determination is necessary.

The 3% municipal waste is a start, as here in the UK. Sort this first and then take on the next target.
Consumers have power to change the situation.

An example is your Whole Foods use in the US. Recently I have found a retailer who plans a similar setup here. That is a result. I have bought desiccated coconut for the first time in 18 months, and Zero Waste.

14 years ago

I don't know if individual change will change the world but if individuals don't change their ways then certainly the status quo will prevail. I think it needs to start at the individual level. That individual will change those around them and those individuals will change those around them and so on and so forth.

As more and more individuals see the need for change, they will be making different consumer decisions which ultimately impact big business because their individual decisions when made together are a collective decision which now has clout.

And you already have impacted big business as someone pointed out. Brita now recycles filters in North America.

I appreciate all that you have done in the way of activism. I don't know if I have an activism gene. At the moment, I am just making my individual decisions. And I have far to go in cleaning up my own individual act before I start trying to clean up others.

I hope my changes are influencing those in my sphere. My friends are starting to find out about my No Plastic Eating Challenge and are quite intrigued. Actually intrigued enough to provide suggestions on how to reduce. One step leads to another.

14 years ago

Wow! Can I just say how highly I regard you, Beth, and how wonderful the comments have been for this article? I am encouraged by your blog, and by leading by your example, I am having an impact on my coworkers, friends, and family.

I have seen a huge shift in the people around me just by them seeing me reducing, recycling, and reusing. For example, coworkers come to me and say, "I don't want to just throw this away. Is there a way to recycle it?" My office is now using reusable plates and silverware for office parties. My parents have started using vinegar in a glass bottle for fabric softener, and they recycle everything their city allows.

Sure, these are tiny changes, yet small steps change to big steps when you lead by example. Thank you Beth for leading by example!

Lara S.
14 years ago

Clif, I feel the need to answer your comment.
You say "it is a fight against the very core of what each of us is". I don't agree at all with the notion that humans crave for material goods because "it is intrinsic to being human". Since you're a FPF reader I suppose you've watched "The Story of Stuff", haven't you? The author has researched the origins of consumerism and says that it was a planned thing, designed to get the money flowing again after WWII. I believe her. I refuse to think that people just naturally need to consume more and more stuff. We may be forced to think so by the media, we may be brainwashed to believe it's our very core, but I think it's not. It's "the system" we're fighting against, not ourselves. This system may have nearly become one of us, but we need to start separating ourselves from it and find new identities, so we stop being consumers and start being ourselves again (or, actually, for the first time).
"Nothing did more to undermine the Native-American culture than to present the Indians with things to buy." I don't think natives wanted to buy and posses new stuff in the same sense we do it now. They were just fascinated by the strange new things that europeans brought. When they were tricked into exchanging gold for mirrors, it wasn't that they needed to posses the mirrors, but they were fascinated by them and considered them magic. It's hard form e to explain, but I don't see this as a good reason to think humans are natural consumers.

English is not my usual language so sorry for any grammar mistake…

Oh and again I'll recommend watching "Zeitgeist: addendum", which explains what I just said soooo much better!

14 years ago

(part 2 of 2)

The joy of getting things is undeniable and intrinsic to being human. Nothing did more to undermine the Native-American culture than to present the Indians with things to buy. Look at how heavily into debt Americans have gone, saving nothing and risking the future with a credit binge that looked unstoppable – such is the power of material desire.

Individual action does make a difference, but humans being what we are, we will not be deterred from consumption, nor will we allow a sub-group, no matter how well intentioned or backed by reason, to restrain us from it. This is where Jensen gets off track. It isn't that individual action makes no difference, it is that not enough are willing to act contrary to what brings them gratification, which is consumption.

The answer can only be a smaller number of people – a voluntary reduction in birth rate – to bring the human load on the earth to far less than it is. That would take time even if people got behind it with a will, but at least we know that humans do not intrinsically desire large families so there is hope in that direction.

But, to the contrary, I constantly hear warnings of how the population is aging and we have to have more young people to enlarge the workforce. This means a new boom bigger than the boomers to support the boomers in retirement. That's nuts because that bulge in young people will end up being an even greater bulge in old people, requiring more young people ergo endless population growth. Need I mention that Capitalism requires an ever expanding base of consumers? So we are locked in.

To a greater or lesser extent, we all turn away from the logical outcome of this, environmental collapse on a huge scale, because it takes more than a human lifetime to reach it through a gradual process of planetary degradation, most of which is hidden from daily view.

The Earth still has plenty to give and lord knows our technologies are remarkable in appearing to isolate us from what we do, but the jig will eventually be up. I give it, oh, 100 years at the outside after which this wonderful world of hyper-consumption will be a fading memory.

Jump out the window? Heck no! Life is better for each of us than ever before in history. Scale back consumption? YES! Live simply? YES! Expect a revolution as Jensen would hope? No, because the fight is not like that against the Nazis or slavery, it is a fight against the very core of what each of us is.

Will rabbits stop consuming gardens? Will plants stop turning their leaves to the sun? No, and neither will humans stop consuming the earth. In all three cases, it's what comes, in the literal sense, naturally.

14 years ago

I learned something today – comments are limited to 4096 characters. Of course this might be a hint, but I am going to ignore it…so here goes part 1 of 2

Jensen would disagree with Gandhi's advice to be the change you wish to see in the world.

But the problem is not industry, agribusiness or entrenched money power and any attempt to somehow overthrow them is futile. They are merely the instruments of our consumption, doing our bidding.

The problem is consumption itself. Who are we endlessly told is responsible for 70% of GDP? Who does Jensen think drives big agriculture and industry if not the mass of individuals, the consumers, you and me?

Big business gives us what we want. What happened to Sears? GM? RCA? even Reader's Digest? The consumer can bring ANY giant business to its knees but only because the consumer moves on to patronizing other businesses – the grand total of consumption continuing to rise with only one thing that restrains it – lack of money. We are seeing a dip for this reason now, but consumption is ready to jump when people get out from under their debts (it may be a while).

If you think gun owners are a rabid bunch, just try starting a movement to tell people what they can or can't buy, particularly if you want it backed by law, tacking on extra charges, for example, for environmental reasons. What do surveys show is the concern that is drops down the priority list when times are not good? The environment. Yes, we want to save the earth but first we want more money. Why? Because it buys stuff.

Consumption is at the very base of what it is to be American and, increasingly, a resident of planet Earth. The great majority of us define ourselves by what we own. I laugh at the number of aging, balding, fat men that I see riding Harley's. They couldn't look sillier – but it is the image in THEIR heads that counts and for which they fork out many thousands of dollars.

The stereotype of the woman as shopaholic is not entirely untrue, I see it in my own partner who shows joy when she brings home new additions to a huge, huge collection of clothing. I joke that I have never seen her wear the same thing twice. She tells me she admires the way I endlessly cycle through my wardrobe of ten tee shirts and marvels at the fact that I go years without buying clothes, yet, she is not deterred and has now taken to buying clothes for me that I don't ask for or need – I am a consumer in spite of myself! Pick up womens magazines and the cover story is likely to be about makeovers and "my new life" that more often than not means a buying spree.

(continued in part 2)

Green Bean
14 years ago

I absolutely believe that personal change leads to societal change leads to political change. One quote I've seen in the blogosphere and on Twitter sums it up for me: CFLs were my gateway drug.

Woman with a Hatchet
14 years ago

Well, here's the thing: while you, personally, cannot fix the environmental crisis we're currently in, you can either ADD to it or do your part to NOT add to it.

You are a ripple in a pond. Your writings touched me and made me think about the plastic in my life. Because I've started paying a lot more attention to that, I've started baking all my own bread and making my own yogurt (and now I'm venturing into cheese, sour cream and buttermilk. Woo!). That may not seem like much, but all of that plastic adds up.

You *know* it does – YOU measure it every month.

In turn, I've been affecting/infecting the people I know personally and getting them to make some similar changes. Who knows how many thousands upon thousands of others you've also impacted! It all makes a difference.

The problem, I think, is that you are faced with the current waste around you that is clearly visible. Invisible to you are the thousands of new choices the readers of your blog are making to lower their own plastic impact. I bet if you could measure it, you'd be STUNNED by the difference you've made. Not just to your own life, but to all of ours.

Now, if you decided to run for office…well. THAT would be the next big step and who knows? Your blog may be the launching point for your political career. Either way, carry on.

And thanks!

Lara S.
14 years ago

Wow, what a great post Beth! One of my favorites :)

I just read Jensen's article and I liked it. I think he has a point. I think you're right, too though. I think his point of view and yours are both right and that a balanced mix of them is what we need to start doing something that will really change things.

Personal changes help you learn things (for example, make you realize that some products contain toxics) and pass that knowledge to others.It also creates some pressure on companies to create different products.
But it's true that it's not enough. I specially liked that Jensen said "we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming". We should fight capitalism itself. Even if every single product in our markets had the highest environmental standards, there would still be poverty, because the capitalist system needs them to be poor.

Have you watched the film "Zeitgeist: addendum"? If you haven't, please watch it. It shows you who really control the world, who has the actual power. It shows that the actual problem of this system is that it is a monetary system. I didn't like certain aspects of the film, but I found it very mind opener and I think we should all watch it. If you like it too perhaps you could post a link in FPF. Please please plase watch it and consider posting a link.

Thanks for the inspiration

Mary Kay
14 years ago

I just read an article this week about trends in the construction industry to be more green. Who would have thought that this would ever happen??? The construction industry is very conservative. Of course, it's a cautious step, but it's in the right direction. They are starting to build hybrid construction equipment. This NEVER would have happened if it wasn't for the "green" movement occurring in the general population.

14 years ago

I cant believe we are still going through this discusion! Feminism taught us that the 'personal IS political'. How does normative change occour at the population level if people dont think and change the way they personally do things? Of course BIG government action to moderate the behaviour of big polluters and to engender community wide structural change is the most effecive way to go. But, if 'consumers' dont change their behaviours, in a capitalist economy no change will occour. These arguments he is proposing confuse two issues; micro and macro action, both of which are important.

14 years ago

Brita filters……you started and others joined, a corporation changed. While the stats on personal water use and waste seems to indicate that we don't stand a chance, I think we do. If individuals except corporations to reduce their waste then we can cut down on corp. waste also. I can think of many people who have picked up some of my habits for reducing waste and I picked up many from blogs like yours and my friends. I love that my 10 year old goes to people houses and asks where the compost bucket is. That said, I have lots of room for improvement as I sent 3 of my kids to camp with a plastic water bottle for a field trip because I knew they would lose their Klean Cantens. I could have found used plastic bottles but did not think of that until right now.

14 years ago

Excellent and thought provoking post. I have been searching for a link to a program I heard on public radio this morning to give you, but I am not having much luck. It was the program Living on Earth and the speaker was Annie Leonard from The Story of Stuff. The only thing in the archive at Living on Earth is from Aug 21, so maybe today's show will show up later. Leonard was saying that individual actions don't matter. However, I think individual actions lead to actions in the voting booth, actions in the market place, and actions of conscience that do make a change. Individual action is a necessary part of the process.

14 years ago

"He's right that all of our personal changes will not reverse the destruction of our environment without massive political and social change as well. But (and this is a BIG BUT) where does he think the will for political change comes from in the first place?"

I think you've already answered your own question, Beth!

14 years ago

Yes, there's only so much I can do as an individual. But what I have the most control over is my own actions. And bottom line, I'd rather be part of the solution than part of the problem. I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't at least try to leave this world a better place.

14 years ago

After reading monkeyjen’s comment I thought I’d actually check out the Orion Mag website (I’d already read the article). And here is what I found: It is Orion’s fundamental conviction that humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.

14 years ago

Personal change may not equal social change, but that’s where it starts, right?

He can say all he wants about “I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply” – because basically he is giving his readers a free pass to be irresponsible.

I think a letter to Orion Magazine is in order, Beth, with a link to your site…and all your cohorts, showing just what a difference individual changes can make – and how inspiring that can be towards social change.

In conclusion, Derrick Jensen makes the baby jesus cry.

ps, walgreens has gotten some great new – AFFORDABLE – steel bottles in. They look like your fancy ones, but only 3.99. yay

Pure Mothers
14 years ago

I've been thinking about this recently. Especially because of our upcoming move to London. They didn't seem especially green there (no recycling bins, no reusable water bottles), and I thought that my personal changes there won't affect their politics. But I need to do it for myself – and to set an example for my child. One day we will be back to the states and I will have the drive to participate politically to make the real changes that need to happen. But it ALWAYS starts at home, with small steps. I agree that as individuals we do not consume or waste as much as industry. But, I am grateful for your blog. I was green for my baby – but was not as aware of our plastic problem. Because of you, I have made leaps and bounds at home and my son will learn how to take care of the earth. We have to think about the next generation who will become the politicians of the future!

14 years ago

I don't expect the small things I do to change the way a society works, however, I do think there is something to be said for our collective mentality and collective actions. If our collective mindset finds waste and environmental degradation foolhardy, our collective actions must follow.

I know 15 years ago, bringing your own bag to the grocery store was unheard of. Now, I'd say I see about 20% of the shoppers in my neighborhood doing this. Many of the small habits I've changed, bringing my own bags, cloth diapering, using a Diva Cup, bringing my own napkin and utensils to gatherings, are the results of following the example of others. These personal habits may help change minds, hopefully enough minds to reach that critical mass of collective change.

14 years ago

Reading this article reminds me of a republican justifying his wasteful existence. Of dumpster diving helped stop hitler- Folks dumpster dived, put up victory gardens in WWII to help suply our troups. But I think that all the changes I have made have or will make a difference-
1- It creates an economic difference- that usually goes to shape what will happen. If a company makes a plastic widget, that sells well, then all of a sudden everyone finds something different made out of cloth, then that company will probably stop making the plastic widget, make one out of cloth and do a PR campaign on how earth friendly they are. So if I and a few friends refuse plastic bottles, and more and more people do it- then PepsiCo is gonna have to rethink the plastic bottle.
2- I feel that, Like Beany says, our personal choices influence others, that makes a collective group that does make change.

I could be talking out of my ass, But hell- I am busy trying to get a collective group to change city policy and get a community garden going!

14 years ago

My actions (avoiding plastic, living car-free, avoiding meat, eating ethically, conserving water and more) are not to change policy. I don't have a hope in hell of any policy being effected because of my personal actions. I do it because it is the right thing to do. As a human being, I have a conscience and I listen to it. Sure everyone on the planet can decide that they'd like to toss shit in the pacific or in their water supply because taking individual action to avoid it is oh so inconvenient. That is their choice on whether they can live with themselves in the future knowing how much harm they could have personally avoided.

Activists like you and others who congregate here do not have the financial resources or the political clout to move mountains or change policy single handedly. We can however do so by our personal actions, inspiring others to follow our example and plodding along one step at a time.

14 years ago

if I had not started reading your blog- I wouldn't be a well informed as I am about the horrors of plastic on our environment. I've made several small changes in the way I live my life and how I will effect this planet- and I believe that all small changes mean something to someone- so don't let 'em get you down with criticism of the small things- your work here changes lives and truly does effect the world we live in

Farmer's Daughter
14 years ago

I've realized that I have to be politically educated and active if I want to see societal changes. But I came to that realization after years of personal changes.