Words by Monash BorrowCup, Precious Plastic Monash and Monash Association of Sustainability
Art by Ruby Comte
We are facing a climate crisis. This will be the biggest, most devastating issue humanity has yet to face. Yet in this crisis, it is so easy to feel helpless. A majority of emissions are being produced by only a handful of mega-corporations. This makes the question “what can I do to help?” a very common one.
Reusable cups, straws, containers, bottles and bags are being pushed at consumers constantly. We are being told that every ‘little action’ will build up into a larger movement. But a lot of us can recognise that this still will not be enough to stop the climate crisis. This idea that we can ‘reduce our carbon footprint’ is essentially a scam and feels completely irrelevant when you consider how little your ‘footprint’ is.
However, this article argues that the little actions do matter – that bringing a reusable container with you to uni can (and will) make a difference. Just this difference may look different to what you are expecting.
Sometimes that’s just where you need to start
Speak to any member of any climate organization or campaign and ask them where their environmentalism journey started. So many of them will say that it was a KeepCup or a reusable straw or a tote bag.
It needs to be acknowledged that the concepts of climate change and global warming are so large and seem abstract to many people. I think many of us are privileged enough to have had an education, and forget that many people may not understand that the climate crisis is real. However, it is much easier to understand other environmental issues such as plastic pollution. When a turtle gets a straw stuck in its nose, it is evident that plastic pollution is a problem. This is a great entry point into environmentalism and will help kick-start critical thoughts on abstract issues like climate change.
We don’t want to turn people away from the climate movement
There is a deeply rooted, preconceived image of environmentalists that many people still associate with climate activists. This stereotype of the unclean, outspoken and rude activist has in the past prevented many people from thinking further about the issues activists wish to change. However, with more mainstream celebrities and therefore more mainstream thought highlighting the climate crisis, this stereotype has been eroding.
Having said that, the rhetoric within that some environmental actions are better than others is once again alienating people from these important issues. By telling people that their KeepCup is useless in the fight against climate change, you are pushing them away from environmentalism. If we want a global, collective, unified movement against fossil fuels, we must not ridicule reusables and the people who use them.
Spark conversations with others
There are these really fun reusable cups and containers that are made of silicone and they fold up into themselves so that they become virtually flat when you are not using them. They are so interesting and incredibly unique that they almost always spark conversation. Sometimes it’s a conversion like “wow, that is so fun! Where can I get one?” and other times it is a conversation like “you carry that around with you? Does that even make a difference?”
While it may not seem like it, the latter of those two conversations can be really useful. Let that person explore those thoughts and you might find that they already understand that to stop the climate crisis, we need to stop fossil fuels. Explore that further and you might find the person is inspired to join a climate campaign. You never know – maybe that person will be the one who creates THE climate campaign that saves us all.
Good for your mental health
Feeling powerless is horrible. Big corporations are destroying our planet, ruining our future and there seems like there isn’t much we can do other than fight the good fight. But this is exhausting. Burnout amongst climate campaigners and environmentalists is extremely common. It is frustrating to fight for change even though not much change is happening.
However, it does feel good knowing you have the power to create change, even if it is little. We should be acknowledging the small wins (like the ones spoken about above) if we are to maintain hope. By disregarding the little changes, environmentalists are going to exhaust themselves. Who will fight the good fight then?
In conclusion, it is clear we must not limit ourselves to thinking that we will solve the climate crisis with reusables alone. But we must also not disregard the little actions if we are to build an effective climate movement.