How do you feel when you think about the future of our planet?
I’m lucky to work with people who are incredibly conscious about the world around us. Sustainability seems to be on everyone’s minds. As an example, everyone in my office has a keep cup or a reusable water bottle – it’s like second nature.
But I’m well aware that, sadly, my little bubble isn’t the norm.
Sometimes, because of where I work, I fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is well aware of the stark realities of climate change, or the tidal wave of plastic we’re drowning in, or the worrying decline in our global wildlife.
I also, often mistakenly, think that, if everyone is aware of these issues, then everyone is probably being more conscious of their behaviour in an effort to help the future of our planet.
This may sound a bit doom and gloom, but read on a little before you navigate off this page.
Just this weekend, I listened to a feature on BBC Radio 1 about eco-anxiety – a problem a lot of young people are currently suffering with as they worry endlessly about the future of our planet and how on earth they can help tackle such huge problems.
I also watched BBC’s Blue Planet Live which emphasised why the oceans, and all within it, are so important (more about that in a later post).
There’s no doubt that media coverage of climate change, plastic pollution and wildlife conservation has increased over the last couple of years.
And from the recent student climate marches, it can feel like our young people are, thankfully, pushing the way for positive change and trying to make those in power start putting our planet first.
So, when surrounded by all this, it can be startling to hear from the other end of the spectrum or see those making greener choices ridiculed.
I’ve become a bit of a figurehead for the environment among our friends and family. I’ve actually been apologised to when a plastic straw appeared at a family get-together…
Straws, coincidentally, are an easy way for me to illustrate my doom and gloom point.
One way to minimise our impact on the environment is to cut down on single-use plastics. We all know (or should know) that straws are one element of this.
Personally, I find this swap fairly easy. I’m not convinced that we actually need straws – unless you have an absolute necessity (medical or otherwise) to be sipping liquid through a tube.
But I do appreciate that when you drink cocktails, the amount of ice in the glass can make it impractical to drink without a straw. I get that.
What I don’t get, is that despite the fact that people are aware of the danger to marine life when straws end up in our oceans, and despite the fact that alternatives are available, some people and some bars and restaurants still prefer to use plastic.
For individuals, I’ve heard excuses ranging from ‘I need to use straws because of my lipstick’ to ‘paper straws don’t work – they just go soggy’. When I challenged the latter point, I was even told that I must drink in posher bars than them… (I don’t).
Let’s just put this into context.
The Marine Conservation Society estimate that the UK uses around 8.5 billion straws a year, with plastic straws one of the top ten items found in beach clean-ups.
When they wash into the ocean, they endanger marine life who either try to nibble the plastic or through microplastics. A video recently went viral of researchers trying to pull a straw out of a turtle’s nose after finding it struggling to breathe due to a blocked up airway (it’s thought that the turtle ate the plastic by mistake then tried to bring it back up – but as their passageway for food and air are connected, just like in humans, the straw could have ended up in the wrong passageway and got lodged in the nostril).
Be warned, the video is uncomfortable viewing – but it needed to be shared. Just like the images of whales washed up on beaches with plastic bags in their stomachs, need to be shared. Just like the image of that seahorse holding onto a cotton bud needs to be shared.
We’re all familiar with these images, I’m sure of it.
So why don’t some people change their actions? Or think about how their actions are linked to the atrocities they’re seeing?
Personally, I think a large part of this reluctance to change is due to either not believing their actions can make a difference, or not thinking it matters.
How do we change that?
Going back to the straw example, there are very decent paper alternatives that don’t go soggy – no matter how long you sip your cocktail for or how many times you stir that ice. Most bars and restaurants are cottoning on to the fact that they can make simple swaps here, and the more chains that start using paper straws the better the quality will become.
For home use, there are even stainless steel or bamboo straws that look way more stylish too. In the long run, it’s actually more economical for us to use these rather than spending money on single-use items.
My worry is that we still haven’t tapped into a big part of the general public who aren’t engaging with these messages every day, who perhaps aren’t naturally conscientious or thoughtful about the environment.
How do we reach them? Should we start labelling single-use plastic with similar images to cigarette packets so that we can’t buy a pack of straws without seeing that turtle’s face? Would that help?
It will be in our lifetime that we see species disappearing from the oceans and from the land.
But it could also be in our lifetime that individual actions create change.
While I’m worried and, quite honestly frustrated, with the sheer lack of interest from some people, I’m also hopeful about others.
Individual actions can make a difference, but only if we do them together.
While one student skipping school to protest about climate change might not make much difference on their own, a nation of protesting students engages media and forces governments to start thinking about a ‘greener agenda’.
I see movements like this and it does give me hope.
But I also think we need to be realistic and think about how we’re going to reach those who aren’t already engaged with climate change, or plastic pollution, or conservation issues.
I work in PR so I appreciate the power of communication. Isn’t it about time we thought more about how we communicate the importance of protecting our planet?