Every Monday, a whole host of tweets go out under the tag #EcoMonday, #MeatlessMonday and #MeatFreeMonday. In #EcoMonday, people tweet what they’re reading, recommend other Twitter users to follow, and have conversations about sustainability, climate change, green living, and everything else “eco.” Tweeters in #MeatlessMonday and #MeatFreeMonday choose to eat no meat for a day, which is good for the environment and good for their health. (Tuning in to these two is a great way to find vegetarian meal ideas too!)
The idea is that if a whole bunch of people get together, they can make a big difference, even if it’s just one day a week.
But can one day a week really change the world?
Big v. Small
There seem to be two main schools of thoughts on sustainability, green development, environmental activism, and the whole “eco scene.” It is a battle of big change versus small change. Will change happen on a global scale because of macro-level changes, such as the development of a global climate change agreement? Or will it happen because of a near infinite number of micro-changes: a grassroots swelling of people abandoning their cars for other modes of transportation, eating less meat, installing solar panels on their houses, changing their light bulbs, and encouraging green companies with their investment and consumer dollars?
My guess is that real, lasting change is going to involve a combination of both big and small. But #EcoMonday is important because, on a personal level, little changes happen one day at a time.
What Can You Do?
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time worrying about not doing enough. The world has some pretty big problems right now, and in the face of that, I feel fairly insignificant. And there is a lot of pressure in environmental circles to do everything you possibly can to make a difference, right now, all at once. Abandon your car! Get your house off the grid! Eat only organic food! Eat only local food! Eat only free-range, hormone free meat! Eat no meat at all!
There is a level of desperation to this – notice all the exclamation points – a feeling of all or nothing.
Fact: Most Of Us Can’t Do It All
Going cold-turkey may work for some people. But from diet to personal finance to exercise to kicking an addiction – anything that requires us to change our habits – the consensus seems to be that gradual change is more sustainable. Crash diets never work. You just end up crashing off the wagon. Enacting a spending freeze often results in an even bigger shopping spree when your willpower gives out. And how many times have you resolved to work out seven days a week only to find yourself back sitting on your butt in front of the TV?
Massive change is hard. Small changes are easier. When you give up because you’re burnt out, you lose the war because you set yourself up to lose the battle.
Change Doesn’t Exist In A Vacuum
“But it’s not enough!” you say, “One small change can’t be enough.” Make one anyways.
You’ll find is that awareness is contagious. It doesn’t just turn off. If you choose to be aware just one day a week, you’ll start noticing those things the rest of the time. It will happen – without trying, without worrying, and without adding to your overall stress level.
Maybe you’ll find yourself paying more attention to environmental news, or you’ll reach for the recycled toilet paper instead of the usual brand. Or you might end up liking some of your new vegetarian dishes so much that you eat them all the time. If you start paying attention just a little, change will happen without you even realizing it. And it will be lasting change, because it occurred gradually and sustainably, no burning out needed.
Change Is Contagious
If you are open about it, your small change can affect more than just you. You ordered a Caesar salad for lunch, but asked for it without the chicken.
“No chicken?” says your coworker.
You explain that you don’t eat meat on Mondays, because it is good for the planet and for your health. Next week your coworker opts for a salad instead of her usual burger and sends her kids to school with PB&J instead of turkey.
Ideas can go viral in the real world too.
Fact: Lots of Small Changes > One Person Doing It All
The average annual carbon footprint of a North American is 20 tons of CO2. If one person goes completely off the grid, theoretically their carbon footprint would be very close to zero.
On average, one meatless day reduces your carbon footprint by 6.6lbs/week. If just 6,680 people abandon meat for one day, they will have a greater impact than one person going completely off the grid for a year. In one day.
Now I can understand that 6,680 people may seem like a lot, but in the era of social media and Web 2.0, 6,680 people is a drop in the bucket. Twitter has over six million users. Facebook has over 250 million. 6,680 people is nothing. And giving up meat for one day a week is a pretty small change.
Make Just One Small Change
So get started. Read a book about the environment or food. Subscribe to this blog. Or that one. Or this other one. Start learning about things. Start thinking about things. And then do it. Pick a change and do it. Bike or take the bus to work one day a week. Give up meat on Mondays. Go to the farmers market one day a week.
And don’t worry about the fact that it seems small. Big changes start small.