The year 2020 is finally here, bringing with it a new decade. In the past decade, our planet realized, perhaps more so than ever in our history, that we haven’t been living sustainably. We faced many challenges ranging from political gridlock on climate change to more intense storms, bigger and hotter forest fires, an ocean filling up with plastic, historic flooding, water scarcity … and the list goes on and on. It seems as though the 2010 decade was the “a-ha” moment for many. We need to change our way of life and fast.
So as we move into this new year and new decade, I challenge each of you to commit, and I really mean commit, to a new way of thinking. Let’s be done with the old sayings, “addressing climate is too hard,” “I’m just one person, what impact can I have?” and “we’re all screwed anyway so let’s just keep on living while we can.” While we may have just lived through the most climate-impacted decade of our lives, all hope is not lost. There are millions of people around the world who are working hard day-in and day-out to make a difference, to come up with creative solutions and ensure that we don’t leave this planet a complete mess for posterity.
Again, I challenge each of you to decide that this is the year (and maybe the decade) of action, of asking, “How can we accomplish that?” rather than, “That’s impossible?” We need to think of ourselves as agents of change rather than wait for the world to change around us.
And it’s not difficult to start. There are so many actions we can take to lessen our impact on this planet and not get overwhelmed. Here are some tips to help make those real and sustained changes in your life.
Start with one action (it doesn’t matter what): Pick one thing that you know you can do to live more sustainably, and make it fun. If there is something you are extremely passionate about, start there. It always helps motivation if there is passion involved. Whether it’s totally ditching single-use plastics or just remembering to put your reusable bags in the car when you’re going to the grocery store, commit to just one goal.
Take the first step: What you want to accomplish is probably one of those things that you think is harder than it is in reality. Pause and think through what you need to do to accomplish that goal and then take the first step towards achieving it. I wanted to stop buying plastic toiletries. When I paused when trying to purchase a new bottle of shampoo, I thought to myself, “this is the behavior I want to change, so buying a bottle of shampoo as I always do is not supporting that change.” So I did not purchase that bottle of shampoo and instead went home to research what alternatives were out there that didn’t involve plastic packaging.
Make it a habit: The hardest part about changing our lives is creating a habit, regardless. Some things are easy to start and harder to continue. If you can keep your focus on one thing, and one thing only, and commit to that over one month or one year, you will form a new habit. All of a sudden, that action that was difficult at first is common practice. Then you’ll have the motivation and time to think about your next action. This applies to living sustainably and any other goal in your life; just think about the commitment and the long term.
Kim Schlaepfer is the Climate Action Collaborative project manager at Walking Mountains Science Center. To get involved in Climate Action, visit ClimateActionCollaborative.org. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.