The environment: Little things matter but NOT because they add up

The internet is filled with “10 tips to lower your carbon footprint” and “21 easy ways to help the environment.” Here’s a screen shot:

little tips to help the environment
Little tips to help the environment

There are too many pages of them to count. They aren’t working.
Sure, some people might change a light bulb or two, but greenhouse gas levels aren’t decreasing, nor is pollution, nor resource depletion.

The number one problem with “little tips”

People say enough little things add up to big differences. When the people leading others to consume fossil fuels wantonly are the Koch Brothers and Donald Trump, the measure of change is against their results and no amount of changing to LED bulbs will accumulate to compare with their results.
Even so I still recommend acting on small things, but not because they add up to big differences.
The number one problem with little tips is that they reinforce the believe that you don’t want to do them. That they are sacrifices.
If I recommend something that I know you’ll love and you’ll thank me for, I don’t recommend a little of it. This culture used to accept drinking and driving. Knowing what you know about drinking and driving, would you promote to people only to avoid drinking and driving one day a week? Or to drink a little less before driving?
No! You’d suggest never to drink and drive. There’s no upside to it.
Same with seat belts. You know everyone benefits from car safety. You don’t suggest wearing seat belts sometimes. You suggest wearing them all the time.
Yet people suggest meatless Mondays. Or to recycle instead of not buying things.
Trying to sneak changes by you implies you don’t want the change.
The underlying beliefs that acting to reduce your effect on the environment are one of the biggest problem. Beliefs influence behavior unconsciously.
Those beliefs are the opposite of my experience.
My initial struggle avoiding packaged food and flying were as hard for me as they’ll be for you. Now I rank them among the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
My food, for example, is more delicious, convenient, and inexpensive than ever. When I think changing behavior for the environment, I think delicious more than anything else. Everyone loves delicious. More change to me means more delicious.
When something improves your life, you do it more, not less.
Suggesting small changes undermines people making big changing by implying you don’t want to change at all.

Why I still recommend action, even on small things

Yet on my podcast, when I invite people to take on personal challenges, I don’t object if they choose small ones.
Why not?
Because I see a greater value than hoping little difference add up.
Active changes, even small ones, lead to changes in perspective. My podcast guests who change their behavior—not just talk about it or claim awareness without meaningful, challenging, measurable action—over and over describe a mindset shift. They see that, despite their views before the challenge, they can change. They feel empowered, strong, and in touch with values they ignored. They lose the guilt they blamed others for.
Rather than the new behavior being hard, they see that changing their perspective was hard. Once changed, they see their effects on others and take responsibility. They see what more they can do. They feel better living by their values instead of glossing over, suppressing, and denying what they claimed the valued but dismissed in favor of comfort, convenience, and following others unquestioningly.
Because little changes can create mindset shifts which can lead to big changes—in themselves and people around them.
That’s why I recommend action, even on small things: it changes you as a person, which leads to big changes.

How to act on small things

If you act on small things, I recommend doing it with the intent to do it forever, to expand on it, to use it to examine and change your values as you practice them, not just how you talk about them (without practicing them).
Then find ways to apply what you learned to bigger changes—to live by your values and improve your life.

Leave a Reply