I watched a documentary last week called “The Economics of Happiness”. A very thought-provoking film which talks about how the current global economic model is killing the planet, and the need for an alternative. An interesting discussion followed, and a question that came up during the conversation set me thinking – what are the top 5 things I can do, as an individual, which will make a difference. So I decided to pen down my personal top 5 things that I think are important if we want to move towards a more sustainable world.
1. Consume less
Contrary to what the expert economists would have us believe, our consumption as a community needs to go DOWN, not UP. For a more sustainable rate of growth, we need to slow down our consumption of the planet’s resources. This was a recurring theme in the film, and a direct way to impact this is to start with our own consumption, whether it applies to that next new brand of phone, that new pair of jeans/jewellery, or that new flat screen TV for the kids room. Think whether you really need it, try to buy second-hand where possible, sell the stuff that you don’t need any more. Buy “green” and “local” as much as possible, patronize farmer’s markets and green bazaars, buy organic produce, make a statement with the money you do spend. Buy less processed food, start a terrace garden and grow some of your own food, eat out less, cook at home more! Going vegetarian/vegan is another significant way to reduce the burden on the planet.
2. Engage with governance
This starts with being an active citizen, making informed choices, and voting in the elections, of course, but it doesn’t stop there. It extends to becoming active in issues that affect our lives and those of our fellow citizens, and it is easiest to start local, whether it is trees being cut down in the neighbourhood for the road widening project, or holding the local government bodies responsible for the services they deliver – electricity, water, roads, traffic control. Many areas have active residents welfare associations through which they engage with local governance, and many of the Govt agencies are trying to reach out to citizens in a meaningful way (BESSCOM is said to be very pro-active, Traffic police has a Facebook page etc). Find out the phone numbers of local authorities, engage with them when needed, join your RWA. Connect with and lend support to community struggles elsewhere in the country and the world (online activism is easy in this globalized world).
3. Engage with community
With the state of the world’s environment today, most intellectuals believe that the time for individual action is over, and we need to have community wide initiatives. This means that it is not enough that we change our own actions to be environmentally friendly (refuse plastic shopping bags, avoid bottled water, recycle dry waste, compost wet waste, use water/electricity judiciously, etc) but we must engage with our immediate community to do the same. This is again possible through RWAs – connect with like-minded people to bring in progressive initiatives around garbage segregation and disposal, water conservation schemes etc. All it takes is a core group of two or three committed individuals, and you will be amazed at what changes you can bring about, rather than waiting helplessly for local government authorities to take action. Speak out when you see a problem, rather than accept status quo, whether it is someone chucking trash out of a train window, or your neighbour washing their front porch with a garden hose. Be respectful rather than confrontational when you have these conversations.
4. Make a positive impact in your workplace
For most people, workplace is where we spend most of our waking hours, and perhaps feel more of a sense of community here. So it makes perfect sense to engage within our work community meaningfully, and bring about progressive initiatives already discussed above. If you drive to work, join a carpooling group; if you take public transport or bike to work, tell your colleagues about it and encourage them to do the same. Create and support discussion within the work community, organize talks/film screenings to increase awareness and facilitate dialogue relevant to the state of the environment. In addition, one can attempt to drive positive policy changes like more teleconferencing to cut down on travel, supporting CSR initiatives, adopting ethical business practices etc. However, all these efforts are impactful only if you work for a company whose business and growth model you can support with a clean conscience. It’s no use working for McDonald’s and promoting healthy eating, or working for General Motors and pushing public transport! 🙂
5. Make more time
Your time is the most precious gift you have, and it should be given wisely as each of us have limited time on this planet. Think about how you spend your time, and whether you could spend it better, right from your choice of workplace to your activities outside of work. Take a sabbatical from work, stop “leaning in”, make time for yourself – to read, think, engage. Take up a pet project you’ve been postponing – maybe a terrace garden, or a clean-up drive in the neighbourhood, or volunteering at the local Govt school. If your job doesn’t allow you to do these things, push your management hard, and if they don’t relent, find a lower paying but more satisfying job that allows you more flexibility. The best things in life are free – clean air, trees, forests, mountain streams. While we continue to work for money, the satisfaction obtained from volunteering for a worthy cause is immense indeed, and perhaps one of the keys to “happiness”.
Finally, it is up to each one of us to decide where we want to draw our personal line, and how we will align our actions with our beliefs, whether it is doing community work, finding a satisfying job that we love, purchasing organic produce or going vegan. The above is not meant to be a preachy list of things-to-do-to-save-the-planet but simply a list of things I believe to be meaningful. I would love to hear from others about their personal lists as well.
Thanks for reading,
 The Third Curve: the End of Growth as we know it, by Mansoor Khan