by Steven Feuerstein, co-founder, for all a beautiful earth, https://fab.earth
Reduce, reuse, recycle? That’s so 20th century.
Don’t get me wrong. I totally agree with reduce-reuse-recycle. It’s a great mantra for changing how we consume: a simple, easy-to-remember formula, and a formula with an order to it.
First, you do everything you can to reduce consumption. Then, if you bought it, reuse it (or reuse something someone else bought) before buying it again. If you can’t reuse it (anymore), then recycle (or compost) it if at all possible. Finally, send it to the landfill (throw it in the garbage).
If we had actually followed this order for the last several decades, the climate crisis wouldn’t be as severe as it is right now. We did not, however, respect and follow the Three Rs. When it came to buying habits, we skipped right over reduce and reuse, and pinned all our hopes and dreams on recycling.
In the popular mind, “reduce” is for the ascetics who’d rather live in a cave then enjoy modern life; “reuse” is for hippies; but recycling, ah, recycling is the mark of a virtuous consumer.
We’ve convinced ourselves (with lots of help from manufacturers, advertisers and politicians) that as long as we recycle, it’s OK to keep on buying stuff. In fact, it’s OK to buy more and more stuff, because more and more stuff features the recycling symbol that tells us we made a good choice, that we are going to help the world be a better place.
So we kept on buying stuff, even lots of things we didn’t really need, because they made us more comfortable or they made life more convenient (saved us time) or they entertained us so powerfully. As we did, the amount of plastic, metal and paper available for recycling grew, as did the piles of trash.
In hindsight, it’s not hard to see why we fell in love with recycling and spurned the other two Rs.
Recycling takes place post-consumption, while reduction and reuse happen in place of consumption.
Recycling (or as Peter Kalmus, author of Being the Change, puts it: “Garbage 2.0”) lets us buy our cake, eat it too, and then even convince ourselves that we are losing weight. All at the same time. Ah, the innocence of the 20th century!
Now, in 2019, we face the consequences of this corruption of the 3Rs: the worldwide recycling program has broken down (China finally got fed up with being the world’s dumping ground, and now a cascade of other countries in Asia are rejecting our trash), our oceans are teeming with plastic, our rivers are poisoned, and our forests are decimated.
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Species are going extinct, increasingly intense storms ravage our coastlines, the ice at both poles are melting — rapidly. And humans barely notice, because they are too busy watching videos on their phones and shouting at each other on social media.
We — every living thing on this planet — can no longer afford to have humans try to follow the somewhat quaint three Rs of the 20th century. We need a new set of Rs, along with tools to help us implement these new Rs.
The fabe team proposes the following (mostly) new 3Rs:
reduce, rescue, reconnect
As you will read below, the new 3Rs take us beyond an exclusive focus on consumption to a more holistic way of living and acting in the world that reflects the deep nature of the crisis humans have created and so poorly named “climate change.”
Reduce consumption as rapidly and thoroughly as we can. This includesreusing and recycling whenever possible. But we must keep reduction front and center if we are to hope to even slow the rate of acceleration of climate change.
Don’t need it? Don’t buy it!
Every purchase we make makes the climate crisis worse. Every purchase we don’t make slows down the climate crisis — by a little bit.
But what if millions of us make the same buying decisions? Then that little bit could turn into a big bit. Big enough to transform our buying power into a superpower that forces governments and companies to implement policies to combat the climate crisis right now.
Because that’s how markets work. If we buy less stuff now, companies won’t make so much stuff next year. If we buy stuff differently — if, for example, we refuse to buy a shrink-wrapped case of plastic bottled water — then companies will stop making those products since they will sit on the shelves, unsold.
All leading to less pollution, less habitat destruction, less waste: less climate change.
And it is absolutely within our power to make this happen. This is not a theoretical or utopian idea. Here’s why.
Each of us control if, when and how we consume. It’s one of the few things in our lives over which we do still have almost complete control. The only thing stopping us from changing our buying habits is ourselves.
Each of us can say “No thanks” to the latest eye-popping television technology. Each of us can say “No way” to those awful plastic water bottles.
In a market economy, we consumers call the shots. That is a fact, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. With enough “no thanks” and “no ways” to products we don’t need or are wastefully packaged, companies will change what and how they sell, or go out of business.
That’s the “long game” when it comes to our buying power. But there is a “short game”, too, and that’s what we need more than anything else — because we’ve run out of time.
Besides broadly reducing our consumption, we can also use our buying choices to get corporations to voluntarily take steps now that may eventually be mandated by initiatives like the Green New Deal. After all, a company doesn’t need a law to force it to the right thing. They could, for example, choose to not spend millions on lobbyists to oppose climate legislation. They could choose to donate those millions to groups fighting extinction.
And if they do not want to help solve the climate crisis, why would we want to give our money to them?
The bottom line is that rampant human consumption was and is a big contributor to the climate crisis and extinctions. Reclaiming our power over our own consumption, reducing and targeting that consumption, offers the fastest, best path to a hopeful future.
Rescue animals suffering from human actions, including and especially animal farming. Do everything we possibly can to stop the human-caused extinction of entire species.
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Reducing consumption will have a medium-to-long term impact. We buy differently now, and in the future there will be less climate change. This will not only help humans, but all other forms of life on Planet Earth.
But that doesn’t help the billions of animals and entire species that are threatened with annihilation today, right now, as a result of our consumption and arrogance.
Once a species goes extinct, it is gone forever from this world, from the universe. It’s bad enough when that happens through the course of natural changes in the world. But it’s beyond horrible that a species should go extinct to make sure people can enjoy their cat videos and drink purified water from plastic bottles.
Purified because it was poisoned in the first place by human activity.
Those of us who are concerned about the widespread extinction of species occurring now should be desperately seeking any and every possible action we can take today, right now, to rescue those species. Saving species should be a top priority of the climate action movement.
Fortunately, there are hundreds of organizations around the world working night and day to save the lives and species of animals. Thousands of people spend and risk their lives in the fields and jungles and oceans to combat the worst effects of human consumption.
These rescuers are true superheroes, but they are almost completely invisible to the general public, and are constrained severely by budget and politics. All these groups, all these rescuers, deserve and need our support, and we need to be inspired by their dedication and achievements.
We can each become a rescuer, in our own ways. Volunteer at local parks and preserves to push back invasive species. Help clean up waterways in your towns and cities. Plant trees.
There is so much we can do to rescue life threatened by the consequences of human consumption. And the more we rescue, the more we reconnect!
Reconnect humanity, especially our children, to the natural world. Strengthen the bonds of family and friends — away from the Internet and computer screens.
We, especially our children, need to reconnect to the natural world, and strengthen the bonds with family and friends — away from the Internet and computer screens.
The more time we spend inside our sealed-off boxes (cars, trains, planes, homes, offices), and the more time we spend staring at screens and listening through headphones, the more we consume (energy and more) and less we notice, appreciate and enjoy the rest of the world. It also makes us feel bad, and eventually sick.
The more time we spend outside, the less we consume, and the more we appreciate the joy of the wild. The more active we are outside, the healthier and happier we become.
If this is not obvious to you, please shut off your computer right now and go outside. Feel the wind and sun on your face. Take a deep breath. Go among trees. Smell the world. Listen to the birds. Watch insects and amphibians up close.
Reconnect with the natural world, and it will reconnect to you.
Together, we can all restore and live in a beautiful world.
Get Real, Steven?
It’s not hard to find people on the Internet who take exception to this approach. Their criticism could be summarized as:
“You seriously think that when lots of people decide to stop buying plastic water bottles, companies will change their ways? That’s ridiculous. We need collective action not individual action.”
Well, we don’t think any one action or type of action is enough. We believe that individual action is needed, along with collective action.
We also believe that changes at the individual level are necessary, even if they might not be sufficient.
Why should politicians and business leaders take seriously our petitions and letters and social media “likes” when we don’t even seem to care enough to make sacrifices — large or small — in our own lives so as to not make things worse?
Furthermore, successful collective action — changing governmental policy, forcing companies to change the way they manufacture and distribute good — requires a lot of power. We don’t have that power now. Corporations and the wealthy have the power. But when we exercise our buying power and start to rack up some victories, we gain power. That power will help us achieve systemic change.
To conclude: it’s all about “yes and”. We need to take action in every which way we can, every moment of every day, if we are going to have the impact needed to avoid a global catastrophe. We shouldn’t argue over individual vs. collective action.
We should, in fact, talk and write less, not argue at all amongst each other, and above all else take action.
Bringing the New 3Rs To Life
I hope you can feel in your bones that this new set of 3Rs — reduce, rescue and reconnect — offers a path to having immediate and long-term impact on the climate crisis. We believe it will also make each of us healthier and happier — and saturate our lives with meaning and purpose.
The fabe team also believes that we need tools to help us implement these 21st century 3Rs. We need a way to collectively take action and have greater impact. We need a way to easily put together and use climate action plans in our own lives. That’s why we’ve built the fabe app (by the way, we like to pronounce it “fay-bee” but you can say it however you like).
There are others apps doing similar things, including wedonthavetime.org, joulebug.com, 1millionwomen.com.au, earthhero.org, and more. Check them out! Hopefully some day we will all be working together to maximize our impact.
And, yes, we realize the hypocrisy of urging everyone to reconnect with nature and then provide an app to help. 🙂
Here’s the thing: The Internet, social media and our phones have been used to increase consumption by making it easier and cheaper to buy online. With your help, fabe will harness those very same technologies to convert phones from climate crisis accelerants to climate crisis brakes. We hope that’s worth just a little bit of hypocrisy.
Less Talk, More Action
Sure, there are lots of people who do not yet accept that the climate crisis is caused by human consumption, that we are facing a dire crisis, that the futures of our children and grandchildren are threatened.
Let’s not worry about convincing them. Let’s show them how concerned we are, and how serious we are about changing our lives to do what we can to improve the odds of a livable world for our descendants.
Please think about these new 3Rs and how you can follow them in your own life. Use apps and other tools to help you, and remember:
- reduce: Don’t need it? Don’t buy it!
- rescue: Extinction is forever. We need to act now in every way possible.
- reconnect: Nature needs us and we need nature.