If You Had The Mic, What Would You Say?

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All photos in this post are from the 2012 May Day rally in London’s Trafalgar Square not because there’s any connection between that rally and the one happening there today or elsewhere around the world, but because a colleague from London asked the question that is the title of this post and these are the only rally photos I have from there. Paul, these shots are for you and your daughter.
Here’s my response:


   I have some really bad news. Did you come here today to demand that those in power make massive changes so that we can all keep living our hugely wasteful current lifestyles? If so, that has no real chance of working. There are three main things against us:

   First, the biggest carbon-producing and carbon-consuming nations will never all agree to meaningful change and stick to those goals for the decades it’ll take to make a real difference. Remember when the UK committed to making every building carbon neutral by 2016? Everyone felt great about it for a few years until the construction industry lobbied government and that goal quietly went away. It’s not what happens today that matters; it’s the patterns of behavior that extend for decades. Today, you’ll hear a lot of politicians say “kids, we heard you. We’re making changes. And they might… for now. But their track record of sticking with those decisions for decades is abysmal.

   Second, the earth is at 7 billion people on the way to 9 billion in just a few decades. How do we consume less with a couple billion more people? And also with billions of people in developing countries demanding the same high-consumption lifestyles the developed countries have?
   And third, consumption per person is still climbing in the biggest-consuming nations. So if you came here today to demand that someone else fix our problems, it’s likely not going to happen. If that’s all we do, we’re all screwed.


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   But that’s not all we can do. What we can do to make things better dwarfs what they could do… if it's even possible to force them to, and to keep it going for all those decades until you’re my age. But we humans have proven time and again that we can make big changes. So if you really want to do real, lasting good beginning today, start making these changes yourselves, and demand these things from your parents, teachers, and neighbors because these are people who will actually listen to each of you as individuals.


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1. Make a living where you’re living. Your parents may say “that’s impossible,” but the idea of living far from where you work is a new one, and humans for almost all of human history did this. Your parents, teachers, and neighbors might say “but we can make our transit more efficient.” More efficient transit is good. Not needing transit is far better. Millennials have figured this out: they find a cool place in a cool city and get a job nearby, unlike their Baby Boomer parents, who too often insist on living wherever they like, even if it means work is far away.


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2. Live where you can walk to the grocery store, and to the pharmacy because wherever you find a grocery or a pharmacy, you’ll likely find most of your other daily needs as well. Here in the UK, that’s easy in most places. In the US where I’m from, it’s impossible in most places… for now. So we have a lot of work to do to convert our suburban sprawl to places where you can live, learn, work, and play.


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3. Consume less stuff. Far less stuff. For almost all of human history, things were valued by how far they were handed down. Now, they’re valued by how quickly they’re used up. This only started about a century ago, when corporations realized they could get us to buy more of their stuff if it wore out faster, increasing their bottom lines. And along the way, they discovered many other ways to get us to consume more… including consuming more food. Did you know there’s no place on earth where obesity has peaked yet? And that your kids may be the first generation on earth where the majority have diabetes? Our over-consumption literally is killing us, and killing our planet. And some things, like plastic water bottles, plastic straws, and plastic grocery bags should never again be consumed at all. Take the pledge with me that we’ll never use these things again. Say NO to the big corporations and start using things that last again, like all our ancestors did. Recycling is good, but reuse is far better. Look at what the Minimalists are doing… unburdening yourself from all the things you’ve been sold by the big corporations is a huge step toward freedom, and spending more time with the things that matter most.


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4. Make small possible. The big corporations which have driven so much consumption don’t like competition, especially from many small people, some of whom will have really disruptive ideas. Working from home should be a basic human right… work with your community to overturn laws that prevent it. Also overturn laws against really small businesses outside the home, like single-crew workplaces. Make it as easy as possible for someone with a great idea and passion, but little else, to get started. Microbusinesses are far more likely to do business locally and make the local economy more resilient instead of shipping stuff halfway around the world like the big multinational corporations do. Someday soon (or maybe even today) you’ll be the ones with great ideas to get out there… work with your communities to make sure the big boys don’t stand in your way.


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5. Make stuff yourself. The freshest food is the food you grow yourself. But even if you don’t have a green thumb, make sure there’s a farmer’s market in your neighborhood to support local agriculture. Local food does so many good things for us, our communities, and the earth that I could go on for hours about it… but I won’t. Grow or support local food and you’ll see. But it isn’t just food… make sure there’s a maker space in your community where people can learn how to make things again. Support local craft. Anything you need to buy that’s made locally with materials for the region has a far better effect on the environment than things shipped in from abroad.


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Do these five things in your community and you’ll be making an impact you can count on, that you can see, and that you don’t have to wait on. And yes, insist on others making changes as well. We really do need more renewable energy sources, which is something none of us can do individually, but the best thing is to need less energy… and that’s something each of us can do. Yes, more efficient shipping is good, but it’s far better not to need to ship as much stuff in. So don’t quit demanding that governments and corporations change, as you’re doing today, but realize that the biggest changes, by far, that can be made to benefit the earth and our future in it are the changes we make ourselves, and in our communities. It isn’t even close.


   ~Steve Mouzon


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018