“We often ask if we can make a difference in the world, but we’re asking the wrong question. It’s not that we CAN make a difference; it’s that we DO make a difference. Every action we take has an impact on something or someone else. We don’t get to choose whether we CAN make a difference or not. We get to choose only if the difference we make is negative or positive. Those are our only two choices. There are no neutral actions.”
I’ve recently read through the summary of this year’s Living Planet Report – an annual report published by the WWF, which documents the state of our planet. It’s not pleasant reading, mentioning among other things that;
- the number of animals we share our planet with has fallen by half since 1970
- to keep our standard of living, we would need the regenerative capacity of 1.5 planets
- the low-income countries have the smallest ecological footprints, but suffer the biggest losses in biodiversity
- climate change and the depletion of ecosystems will leave even more people suffering from hunger, living without clean water or a reliable electricity supply
Reports like this one screams for change. To change our way of living is not just an option, it’s mandatory. The situation is not yet hopeless, but demands immediate action, from the leaders of our nations, from companies, and from us as ordinary citizens.
“We need leadership for change. Sitting on the bench waiting for someone else to make the first move doesn’t work. Heads of state need to start thinking globally; businesses and consumers need to stop behaving as if we live in a limitless world.”
– Marco Lambertini, WWF International
No one has probably missed the typhoon that hit the Philippines last week, causing enormous devastation. The winds almost totally wiped out the city of Tacloban and destroyed many other communities on the island of Leyte as well. Many people have died, even more are homeless and starving.There’s no law and order and getting help to the victims is complicated.
People generously give money to help out, money which is greatly needed to save the people there and rebuild their city and their lives again. But this is not a post about asking you to donate money – even if it would make me very happy if you do – instead I want to ask everybody a question: Are we learning anything from storms like this one?
I’m not talking about developing better plans for how to handle the disaster when it strikes, even though that is also important, and something that should have been paid more attention to in the Philippines knowing that this storm was approaching. However, what I’m talking about is climate change. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that these storms are getting both worse and more frequent because of the damage we do to our nature. We are all partly responsible for what happened in the Philippines. Just like we are all partly responsible for any other natural disaster that has happened or will happen in the future.
The lifestyle people in the developed world are leading is not sustainable – we are living above our resources – and we all know that. We use the nature as a resource instead of living in harmony with it, instead of treating this planet as the home it is. It is the only planet we have, the only one we are ever going to have. Unfortunately life is not fair, and the consequences of the lifestyle we are leading does not always (never) hit the people most responsible.
We need to change and we need to change now. It’s not enough to change our light bulbs to energy-saving ones or closing the lights or the TV when not in the room. We need to change our way of living; consuming less, traveling less and more energy-efficient, eating more environmentally friendly foods (aka plants), and so on. We cannot anymore reverse what we have done to this planet of ours – and with that to millions of humans and animals – but we can stop it from getting worse.
You might be thinking that changing your own lifestyle will not make a difference, because you’re only one person among billions, and along with that the many corporations and political leaders who only seek power and economical gain – often on the expense of the environment or the health of humans or animals. But you know what? You can change that. We can change that. Because people together are powerful, together we can change anything.
If not you, who? If not now, when?
Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have an old phone with no cool apps, a lousy camera and no touch-screen. I barely never buy new clothes – except when it comes to underwear – almost everything I own in that department is second-hand. I recently sold my car and I’m not planning to buy a new one even though it takes a while to get to work without one. I don’t have an Ipad, a new laptop and a house full of nice furniture. And I don’t care.
It’s not that I could not afford a new phone, some new clothes and a car. I work full-time, so money is not the problem. Actually, there is no problem. I just don’t want those things. I don’t believe they will make me happy. I actually believe they kind of make us more depressed, because we buy and buy and buy and think it will make our lives better but after a while were back where we started, only with less money in our bank account.
Lately I’ve become more and more interested in living more “simple”. I’m thinking to sell off quite a lot of my stuff, things that are mostly just lying around without me really knowing why I have them. I’m also planning to work less in the future, to have more time to spend on things I love, like writing and volunteer jobs in different organizations and on my own. It’s just been about half a year since I finished my full-time studies and went out into working life, but somehow I already feel like it’s not my thing. I don’t want to spend my life working most of the time, leaving very little time and energy to other things that I find important. I don’t mind earning less if it means I have more time to do things I love.
The world just seems to be spinning faster and faster all the time. You should be done with your studies faster so that you can get out into working life, you should work hard to move up on the career ladder so that you can earn more money and buy more nice things, you should see and do as many things as you can as soon as you can. Does it really make anyone happy? I think we all would benefit from slowing down a little, stop focusing on performing, not asking so much from ourselves and each other all the time. Instead we could start living more, enjoying more, loving more.
I used to be a quite sad and angry person, disappointed in how we treat each other, how we treat non-human animals and the earth. There is also a general notion out there about vegans always being angry, and I understand it, because a lot of the vegans I know, or even some that I have only met briefly, are angry. How can you not be angry when there is so much that is wrong in the world and you feel so small, so hopeless, when it comes to changing all of that?
But I realized somewhere along the way (partly because I was finally fighting, and winning over, my severe depression, but also because of other circumstances) that being angry was not getting me anywhere, neither was it doing much for the animals. I was so desperate in making people see what I see, making them understand the world the same way that I do, that I would have done anything just to change them. But you cannot just change people, change comes from inside, from realizing something yourself. And me being angry, sad and desperate did not help anybody to realize anything, because who wants to listen to someone who is constantly angry?
I’m an overall happier person today, I smile so much more now than a few years ago. Of course I have my days when everything feels wrong, or when the truth of the world just washes over me and makes me feel totally out of hope that it will ever change. But most of the time I’m hopeful, and I try to stay happy. Because I am happy that I’m a vegan, that I changed. I can’t make anyone else change, but I change myself constantly to become a better person, to evolve. I know that I inspire others to change too, and that is not because I’m angry and constantly tell people about things that are wrong in the world or things I think they should change in their lives, but because I’m happy and sure about the decisions I’ve made and because I answer honest questions from people without demanding anything from them.
Nothing makes me happier than when someone is genuinely interested in veganism or animal rights, or something else that is close to my heart. Every time I can help someone with a concern they have it pretty much makes my day. That’s why I like having this blog so much too, every time someone comments I get to smile. So thank you!
Over and over again, I stumble upon discussions about veganism where non-vegans tell vegans that they’re naive, that veganism is not the solution to the world’s problems, and that there are worse things to worry about. Sometimes they actually believe vegans think they have the ultimate solution, that they are perfect (some vegans also seem to think so, but I believe they’re a minority) – and they love to point out things that make vegans look bad.
I don’t believe veganism is a solution to all problems. A common argument among vegans is that if everybody became vegan we would not have people starving in this world. This is not true. It is true that if everyone became vegan, we would have more food to feed people, because we would not anymore be growing crops to feed the animals to later feed the people with, which is insufficient and a waste of energy (apart from being ethically wrong in several ways). However, the problem is more complex, since we already now have an overflow of food in the industrial countries, while there are people starving in other places in the world because they lack food. In other words, it is also a question about distribution of the available food.
What I want to say with this is that I believe animal activists sometimes defeat their cause by pretending veganism is the solution to everything. It affects the trustworthiness of the whole idea of veganism. Because it’s not the solution to all the world’s problems. It is a start, and it definitely doesn’t do any harm. But we cannot pretend it is the perfect, and only, solution. It needs to be combined with a whole bunch of other changes to make this world what it should be.
As vegans we are not perfect people, and I think most of us are not trying to be. Because perfection is not what veganism is about. However, we try our best to do something, to make some kind of change. You have to start somewhere, right? I don’t let people who say stupid things about what I should care about instead of animals discourage me, because I am really trying to live my life the best I can, and do the least harm I can. I will never stop learning and changing myself and my behaviours towards the better, and what more can I do than that?