What’s that Mahatmu Gandhi quote again? The one about changing the world and so-on? It never really resonated with me. It’s rather pessimistic, but I often succumb to Down’s paradox or the paradox of voting, that is, the disbelief that one’s vote can alter the outcome of an election or, crucially, that one’s actions can cause a tangible disruption to our environment. During my first 10 days at the University of Cambridge I have quickly (and quite rightly) felt my pessimism is unshared. Academics and students here work tirelessly to make the world a better place and there is no doubt that countless individuals will indeed disprove Down’s paradox and enact change that benefits us all. These same academics have set my cohort a challenge to change one thing in our lives for the duration of this term to understand the barriers to change, both personal and external. This is a timely test given the IPCC’s recent report detailing our accelerated impact on the climate and the risks our actions pose to sea level rises, coral reefs, fisheries and agricultural land. The need for change could not be more acute.
It’s funny, my initial reaction upon hearing of our Change Challenge was one of opposition. Upon reflection, I am not particularly akin to change, nor am I any good at it. Joining the university is arguably the biggest change I have made in the last 5 years and, hilariously, prior to that, my biggest change was attending the university where I studied my undergraduate degree. I am capable of making small changes quite readily: do a bit of running, read more, travel to some new places, but I sub-consciously resist wholesale change. In fairness, I think most of us resist huge change too – the status quo is warm, comfortable and known. Indeed, I feel change resistance is a significant part of our evolutionary makeup. Older generations regularly lament how the world has changed and how younger people don’t act how they would like. This is understandable as their actions, and the way society operated in their youth, allowed them to survive (dare I say thrive!) and in many cases allowed them great wealth and opportunity. But the way we do things now needs not only to change, but be turned on its head. We cannot keep treating our planet the way we do if we want other generations to enjoy what we enjoy. This is hard! I quite like the warm, comfortable status-quo that is our CO2-asphyxiated home. But if we are going to change it we need people like me who don’t like change to really change the way we operate.
So I’ve decided for my Change Challenge I am going to attempt to give up single-use plastic entirely. I have chosen this not just for the obvious ecological benefits, but to change the way I currently interact with plastic. I want to view my world through plastic-tinted glasses, if you will. I know the issues associated with this, namely that all of western society revolves around the use of plastic, but that is primarily why I am doing it. I want to do something that is really going to affect my lifestyle to challenge my resistance to change. I am also aware that this is essentially impossible given our extensive use of plastic in food packaging and hygiene products, but I imagine my attempts will more clearly highlight where we excessively use plastic and identify the low-hanging fruit for plastic reduction in such sectors. I intend to update this blog bi-weekly to discuss the difficulties I am having and perhaps offer some strategies for reducing our plastic consumption without going to such extremes as these.
Be the change you want to see in the world he said. This time, Gandhi, I’ll try and listen.