In a recent event on the occasion of World Environment Day, I got an opportunity to interact with young minds of the Global Shapers Community Chapter. During the discussion, while we indulged in knowledge sharing, one question kept on popping; the question was, “Does individual action matter in affecting Climate Change?”
It is not that simple to answer. Since we live in a system, the change caused by us is not reflected in the system until the change is significantly adverse. Does this mean that individual actions do not matter in climate change? Emphatically no. I am an ardent believer that individuals do matter. If they try to change, it will lead to a domino effect and ultimately result in changing the system.
For example, a study done by National Resource Defence Council and Oxford University states that going vegan can significantly reduce our diet based consumption to climate change. The study mentioned that a global switch of diet that compromises less meat and more fruits and vegetables could save up to 73 lakh lives and further reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds.
A similar study done in Canada highlights that in 2018, 64 lakh Canadians follow a total or partial consumption of meat. Most of the population that did so was millennials or generation Z. A change started by Greta Thunberg is producing visible changes globally. This is the power of an individual.
The advancement in technology and social media has made connecting with people more accessible than ever before. We need an environmentally aware population, and the individual believes that we can change the world.
Let me tell you another example, making the most use of social media, I suppose. On average, the tobacco companies produce 6 trillion cigarettes every year for a billion smoking population. The production of tobacco is responsible for multiple environmental threats at each production stage.
A study by the WHO divides the lifecycle of tobacco into four different stages, and each stage contributes to environmental stress at variable degrees. Let me explain it in more detail.
The first stage is tobacco growing and curing. Growing tobacco results in deforestation in several countries. Additionally, the process is heavily dependent on chemicals for production, resulting in pollution of the soil and water bodies. The second step of manufacturing and distributing tobacco produces a significant amount of solid waste, most of which is non-biodegradable.
The third step is consumption. Well, I believe the picture on the packet of your favourite cigarette paints a good enough illustration of the health risks involved. Besides health risk, cigarettes are a potential cause of forest fires in several parts of the world.
Lastly, the post-consumption step produces the most common waste menace, cigarette buds; the non-biodegradable filter attached with cigarettes accounts for 1,75,200 tonnes of waste annually. Additionally, smoking tobacco is directly responsible for 26,00,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide globally.
Now, let me calculate the same parameters for an individual. If you smoke one cigarette daily for 52 years, you’ll end up producing 3.22 kilograms of non-biodegradable waste buds. Maybe this would force you to think twice before you end up smoking that cigarette.
Stating these points, I would reiterate that we might stand small in front of the system as an individual, but we certainly can spark the reaction. While the debate of collective actions and individual action continues globally, do not forget to pat your back for that one decision of not smoking the cigarette even if no one is watching.
“One person can change the world.” – Rosa Parks.