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Saving the Planet: Progress Inspires Optimism

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After four decades in the environmental movement, I rejoice at signs of progress, but I also believe the pace of change remains too slow. We—especially those privileged with daily meals and computers—need to do more.  

I often struggle to reconcile realism with optimism. Realistically, two-thirds of natural services to humankind are in decline: depleted fisheries, extinct species, toxic pollution, soil erosion, dying rivers, lopped-off mountain tops, melting glaciers, and an atmosphere heating up like a flambé.   

Facing these realities, my optimism comes from two sources:

  • One, historic achievements for civil rights, women’s rights, and disease treatment show that we can change.
  • Secondly, most people show compassion and know how to enjoy rich lives with modest consumption. I know we can achieve a richer quality of life with simpler means.  

To do this, we must preserve the two elements of our world that sustain us: the environment and our communities. We must adopt personal and social strategies that “relocalize” society. We don’t need super-heroes, but ordinary heroes and common decency.  

Humanity requires large-scale change, but eventually, change comes down to the daily choices and actions that make large-scale change possible. We must act as if the age of ecological enlightenment has arrived.  

Here are some key ways we can be part of the solution:

Stop hydrocarbon use
Walk, ride a bike, or take public transport. Urge politicians to create low-impact public transportation.  

Grow and eat local food
Dining on exotic food, wrapped in plastic and shipped around the world with fossil fuels, is not sustainable. Preserve local agricultural land and start a backyard or community garden. To impress guests: serve something you grew.

Slow consumption
We must virtually stop consuming certain products and slow down all consumption. Shop second hand. Recycle everything. Make global responsibility your fashion statement.

Build community
We cannot solve the global ecological challenge as individuals, but we can as neighborhoods and communities. Grow compassion.

Have courage
Challenging conventional thinking may attract ridicule. Do not be intimidated by the consequences of having a conscience. When one person stands up, others are inspired to stand up. This is the multiplying power of Gandhi or Aung San Su Kyi.  

To transform society toward ecological responsibility, one must possess a genuine curiosity about how society works and how nature works.  

Use your skills
The best way to change the world is through the things you already know how to do and love to do. Use your skills, knowledge, and passions.  

Practice self-reflection
Ecology asks us to be humble, not proud. We must discover how to learn from nature.  

Ordinary heroes, who practice modesty and courage, lead social change. Committed, organized citizens have always led important social transformation. Personal action defeats feelings of hopelessness. The choices we make transform the world.  

By Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace International

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