It’s only meaningless if we think it’s meaningless, because if we think it’s meaningless, we’ll do nothing. Optimism, as I’ve said before, is the most radical political act there is.
Back in World War II, millions of Allied citizens changed their consumption patterns to help the war effort. They (largely) obeyed rationing rules, forwent metals and rubbers needed by the armed forces, taught their children not to waste valuable and scarce food, and even carpooled to save gas.
What made them believe their individual actions mattered? Why did they bother?
Because being told so by the powers that be—see the poster above—helped them see that one person trying to do the right thing makes a difference. If I remember my chaos theory correctly, one butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can set off a chain of events that leads to a hurricane.
Recently, our Congress passed an energy bill that had no fuel efficiency standards for newly manufactured cars. I am personally appalled.
On the other hand, we the people are not helpless. We the people don’t need Government to tell us to do what is right. We the people can stop buying cars with poor fuel efficiency. We don’t need the government or the automobile manufacturers to do a thing. All it takes is for us to believe that how we purchase and how we act can really make a difference. And it can.
What I’d like to see are the big environmental organizations taking the place of the governments of World War II to remind us all that we can make a difference. I'd like to see Greenpeace and Sierra Club and Environmental Defense billboards all over our country saying: “Do your grandchildren a favor: drive a car that gets 40 miles per gallon.”
Because if a few big environmental organizations start shouting from the rooftops about the power of one, that each one of us can make a difference, more of us will come to believe it and will act as though it is so. And if more of us refused to drive cars that got less than 40 mpg, you better believe the auto manufacturers would not wait for the Government to tell them to improve their efficiency standards.
Watch the video below of the ping-pong ball and mousetrap chain reaction. We never know which of us will be the ping-pong ball that sets the others off. We never know which of us will start the chain reaction. But one of us will.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.