Chapter 3
What Can I Do?

Every change that happens in societies and organizations needs individuals who initiate it...

The very topical question arises: To have or to be?...

Everything new first matures in the dark...

No Easy Answer

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Every change that happens in societies and organizations needs individuals who initiate it.

The question of what each one of us can do to make the world a more sustainable place is not easy to answer. 

Maybe we can make the greatest difference:

if we take other people with us on the path to sustainable development,

if we act together and network locally and globally,

if we push for fundamental changes in politics, so that it listens again to the voice of the people and not only to the voice of the big companies and banks,

if we reduce our collective consumption by just ten percent, because that would already have a major impact on many of the most polluting activities of our economy.

Translated from: Graeme Maxton. 2018. Change! Warum wir eine radikale Wende brauchen.

The question «How can I live sustainably?» is not easy to answer either.

There are at least two main reasons why this seemingly simple question is so difficult to answer.

First, the answer depends on how you define «sustainability». And second, we are not alone: nearly all of us live in societies that are far from what most people would call «sustainable», so that «living sustainably» is not just a matter of individual lifestyle choices, rather would also involve fundamentally changing our societies as a whole. [...].

Thus, over the years, I have begun to pose the initial question a bit differently: 
«How can I live in a way that supports sustainability?» 
Mark Lawrence. 2023. How can I live sustainably? RIFS Research Institute for Sustainability Potsdam.

We need both systemic transformation and individual behavioural changes. One without the other will not get us to the necessary scale of change at the necessary pace.
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. 2020. The Future We Choose - Surviving the Climate Crisis.

3 tips for all people:

Demand radical reforms from politics

© klauscook | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2023

Eat less meat

© Estrada Anton | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018  

Plant a tree 

© G-Stock Studio | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2020

2 tips for wealthy people:

Consume less

© laymanzoom | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018 

Less time sitting in the car and on the plane

© ra2studio | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018  

2. Realign Your Lifestyle

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In addition to my basic daily needs, only consume what gives me real added value and ask me the highly topical question: To Have or to Be? 

Erich Fromm describes 1976 in his book «To Have or to Be?» the prerequisites for a fundamental change in the economy, politics and society in order to overcome the present crisis and to move from an orientation towards having to one towards being.

My ecological backpack
Calculate my own resource consumption

The consumption-oriented lifestyle in the rich countries is pursued from many people worldwide, but it is probably not an attractive option for our children and grandchildren:

  • first, because we are thereby causing large and sometimes irreversible damage to nature and it mostly affects many people in other regions of the world.
  • second, because the price we pay *) in our lives is disproportionately high compared to the benefits gained, this being increasingly felt by the suffering of so many wealthy people in industrialised countries. 

    *) «The working conditions and the acceleration […] alienate people, stifle their creativity and prevent them from having a meaningful relationship with the world, with others and with themselves.

    Conversely, inner emptiness and a lack of resonance lead people to behave like robots and serve a dehumanising system that can only sustain itself through the accumulation of products and the meaningless multiplication of activities.»

    Translated from: Corine Pelluchon. Die Durchquerung des Unmöglichen. Hoffnung in Zeiten der Klimakatastrophe. 2023.

The question arises: What philosophy of life is behind the insatiability of us who live so stubbornly and so dispassionately and morosely at the expense of others and the environment? 
Translated from: Gabriela Simon: Mehr Genuss! Mehr Faulheit! Mehr Schlendrian! Die Zeit Nr. 42/1992


© Depositphotos | lilmallugirl  

Pay more attention to the environment.
For example, with tips from:
WWF World WildlifeFund
Global Stewards 
and many other local, national and international platforms on the internet.

Richness of Nature 

© Sunny studio | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018 

All of us need very personal experiences outdoors in the richness of nature. Because we humans only protect what we appreciate, and we only appreciate what we really know.

Especially in the industrialised nations, increasing urbanisation is leading to a drastic decline in people's connectedness to nature. 

Probably the most important factor in strengthening our connection with nature is the time we spend in nature. People who spend more time outdoors tend to be more nature-connected.

Recent research has also shown that childhood connectedness with nature has a strong impact on later connectedness to nature as adults.

Kleespies Matthias Winfried et al.2022. Naturverbundenheit stärken - aber wie? Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung.

First and Last

Quote from Mahatma Gandhi

3. Encouragements

by Joanna Macy, systems theorist and environmental activist

© miniolka | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2023 

1. The first is to be grateful for living in a time that challenges us so much to change and awakens that sensual, almost erotic instinct in us to sustain life.

2. The second piece of advice is: Don't be afraid of the future that lies in darkness, don't be afraid of uncertainty, stress, loss, because all that is part of a drastic change. Everything new first matures in the dark. And we cannot wait for ready-made plans to take the next step.

3. The third tip is to roll up your sleeves. Get involved politically, get an overview, ask questions about purpose and meaning. Anyone can do that. Don't sit back, don't get discouraged or paralysed. There is so much to learn and do at this time.

4. Fourthly, I would say: have courage of vision. If we compare the psyche to a muscle, then imagination is our least developed muscle.

© Sergey Nivens | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2023

We must allow positive visions of the future to blossom within us.

For nothing new will come into the world through us that has not previously taken shape in our consciousness. 
Translated from: Geseko v. Lüpke. Politik des Herzens. Nachhaltige Konzepte für das 21. Jahrhundert. 2015. p. 93 - 105: Im Gespräch mit der Ökologin Joanna Macy.