The world is a big place – but it’s not so big that we can’t affect what happens to it. Human activity has a very real impact on the environment, and mankind’s love of fossil fuels has been particularly problematic. Thanks to greenhouse gasses, we’re warming our planet at an alarming rate – melting our ice caps, flooding our islands, and destroying our wildlife. Meanwhile, regular old pollution is poisoning rivers, landfills are overflowing, and deforestation is cutting into our irreplaceable rainforests.
There are a lot of things you can do to help protect our earth. You can recycle, for instance. You can plant trees. You can buy a hybrid car. But the unfortunate truth is that even if you reduced your environmental footprint to the absolute minimum, you still would not significantly slow down environmental trends like global warming. One person simply doesn’t have a big enough impact to matter – for real environmental progress, we need to think bigger.
Companies, not people
When we, as individuals, recycle, we’re saving a few bottles and cans from a landfill (or a lot of cans, if you drink as much Diet Pepsi as I do). One person’s share of aluminum, glass, or paper will not make a huge impact, though – what really matters is that we all do it. When entire communities recycle, we make a much more significant impact.
Then there are companies. Companies use much more of these recyclable materials than any individual ever could. Just think of the paper that your office goes through – it’s far more than you use at home, and probably far more than the sum of what all of your office’s employees use in their own homes. And your office is just one office in a country full of them. For real environmental impact, we have to look to big companies with thousands of offices. Recycling policies at this companies are far more important that our personal recycling habits, because in this case, the scale is massive.
Industrial recycling is also a much bigger deal than personal recycling. Industrial operations use huge amounts of material and leave huge amounts of scrap. Their machines are big. Everything is big. When we look at operations on this scale, we’re looking at recycling possibilities that go far beyond what one person, one family, or even one community can offer.
Think again of the hybrid car we mentioned in the first paragraph. One person buying a hybrid car makes almost no impact, but a whole car dealership full of hybrid cars? Now we’re talking – because the solution is at scale.
But what can we do to make sure environmental solutions are adopted at these huge scales?
Where do large-scale environmental efforts come from?
Most of us aren’t in charge of large-scale industrial operations or car companies. But there’s still a lot that we can do to push for change.
Generally, large-scale environmental changes come from one of two places: the government or private companies.
In the case of the government, what we can do is obvious. In a democracy, we have the right to elect our own officials. We can write to our representatives, stage large protests, and use our voices to speak out issues we care about. When enough people show that they care about an issue like global warming, we see results – as we did under President Obama, who helped design the Paris Agreement on climate change. When too few people care about the environment, democracy moves us in the opposite direction – as we saw when President Trump withdrew us from the same agreement. If you care deeply about the environment, understanding and taking part in politics is essential.
Companies also direct their own environmental efforts – but they rarely do so out of the goodness of their hearts. Instead, companies respond to market pressures. And citizens that care about the environment are more than capable of putting some pressure on companies. Just look at the packaging on the products you buy – you’re likely to see a fair number of companies bragging about their environmental decisions. Opt for environmentally friendly solutions by buying that hybrid car or choose those recycled products, and you’ll be pushing more companies to go green. Your individual choices won’t save their world on their own, but by voting with your wallet, you can help bring about large-scale change – and when it comes to environmental issues, the solutions need to be as big as the problems.