• Ian McClellan

Week 26: Five things I have learned about being planetwise.

How can you value the reef before seeing it?

This week, it is six months since I began this imperfect project. Six months since my perception of the how we care for our planet became so disillusioned, that I felt compelled to add my small voice to the big world.

Six months since a spark of belief was that if we can do it, then anyone can. And the belief that we are all connected, and if we all believe we can individually make a difference, and share our ideas - we can create a direct positive impact, and a collective positive pressure.

Six months which began with a naive thought that we were doing a lot of good things already, but soon realising how much more we could do ourselves as a family to help the planet. But then a realisation that this humbling discovery is not a failure but can be energy, to learn and change just our little world.

And by starting small, you can do it. You have time, and it does make a difference.

This week’s change is therefore not a change. It is a reflection, and a contribution.

The reflection that starts not with my own words, but the words of another. The quote thqt opens this week's entry is from a young woman on a Columbian island, and is taken from the Red Bull Storytellers series of mini-documentaries that you can watch here.

The reason for this is because whatever I do to change, often comes from the inspiration of others - connections that I have read about, people who I have spoken to, virtual worlds I have the privilege of entering.

Those who are both passionate and relentless in their purpose. Who stand on top of a mountain of plastic trash, or who suffer hardships at the hands of human intervention, or who believe in local community in a world of individuals and global corporations, and instead of getting angry, they think: how can this be different?

In the case of Red Bull, the cynical view would be that this global brand of energy drinks are using an engaging narrative of human spirit to sell cans of drink. But what I love about this example, is not what Red Bull is, but what they are doing. That instead of direct promotion, they are using their ability to be recognised, to create a platform for others.

Take this a layer deeper, and I stumbled across this video in a regular update that I receive from Ocean Bottle, who I discovered back in February when trying to find good solutions to disposable or on-the-go drinks.

Ocean Bottle make reusable bottles. But it is more than that. Each Ocean Bottle funds the collection of 11.4kg of ocean-bound plastic, equivalent to 1,000 plastic bottles and stops them from entering our oceans. At source.

You can also read about that, or sign up for their weekly content, here.

So the thread continues. Those with a purpose and a platform do not guard or protect ideas, they share and hope others do the same, to promote ideas not products.

What organisations such as this also do that I find inspirational, is that they understand that solving the planet’s biggest problems, means they have step inside the problem, and see if from the point of view of others. We can all be told that a product is simply the best. But as the saying goes, if you have to tell people that you are cool, you are probably not cool.

By providing a platform for others who inspire, it allows the thread can extend to the inspirational individual. You can be cynical about a brand, but you cannot be cynical about a true purpose, or a cause. And you cannot help but to be moved by the individuals you live with the problems that others are trying to solve. If this makes us feel more warm towards a brand, then I think we should get comfortable with that. In the end, we are still consumers, we still have a choice.

It is also inspirational, because it gives me hope about the individual. Being planetwise was about the difference that each individual can make, and about how we are all connected. If an individual from Tierra Bomba, can find their way to a global platform, then there must be a way for so many more positive messages to find a connection. If we all create platforms for each other, and share great ideas, then it does not need a big brand and a tiny island thousands of miles away. It just needs us, sharing with each other. Understanding each other more, and being a platform for each other.

The second part of this week's post, is a contribution. From my very small platform, my very small voice. It is what I have learned so far.

When thinking about what to write about what I have learned, there was the temptation to write a summary of all the things we have done over the last six months.

25 things you can do to be more planetwise, has a nice ring to it.

I then went back to the original motivation for keeping this diary, and the original frustrations that I felt with the divisive nature of opinion on the planet.

I went back to the original disillusion I had, about how I could make a difference. I remember feeling that lists of things to do, just added to the feeling that expectations were just too big. 101 changes, of which 99 seemed unachievable based on the deep habits and the lifestyle we have. And therefore that anything we could achieve, would just be as pointless as picking one plastic straw out of a continent made of plastic straws.

It made me realise that making a list of prescriptive changes, is against what I wanted to achieve through being planetwise. Being planetwise was more about the power of collective positive change, and common ground. Finding common ground, and finding connections in small changes, and the power in believing we can all make a difference.

Here are therefore five things that have worked for me and for our family. It is not a list of things to do, because we are all different and have our own pressures in life. I hope instead it is a list of considerations about how we make any of our day-to-day decisions, that can motivate small changes.

We are also not activists or scientists, and so this list will be as imperfect as we are.

1) Recycling is a last resort.

I believed that recycling was the pinnacle of being kind to the planet. I believed that washing more yogurt pots, was the path to sustainable glory and accolade.

We should recycle, but recycling is only one of the three arrows that we see on our boxes and bags, on our packets and tins. The other two – reduce and reuse, can even remove the need for recycling, and at the heart of this is the common ground of consideration.

Consideration when we make a purchase. Any purchase.

If we firstly think about whether we need something, then it is amazing what we might not need. By this I don’t mean immediate and huge shifts in behaviour. More so fighting our natural and forgivable human instinct to be impulsive. By leaving items in our online basket for 24-hours before making a purchase, to make sure we really love it. By resisting the urge to jump in the car to the drive through, and to jump into the fridge or store cupboard instead. At least sometimes.

If we then think about how t was made, and where it came from, we can make choices in this knowledge. This goes for everything from staple to luxury. Everything was created somehow, by nature or by humans. Everything came from somewhere. We live in a world of alternatives, and by asking or researching for a few moments, you can always find something that was produced more locally, or in a kinder way. We don’t need to boycott all supermarkets, or only wear hemp.

Finally, looking after our stuff, and thinking about what happens when we are done with it, is a lost art. If we look after our toys or our books, then someone else can enjoy them afterwards. Using old containers to store food, does not photograph well, but the pasta doesn’t mind. Being less quick to trash things - because most things that are broken, can be fixed.

2) The problem, is not always the problem.

We have a habit of listening and reacting about what something is called, rather listening and hearing where common ground might exist.

A committed vegan would disagree with a passionate farmer about many topics. The vegan might point to animal welfare, and the farmer would in return defend the respect they have for the animals in their care. Those who fish our reefs have a love for the ocean and for the fish that many would find hypocritical.

The common ground might be the commoditisation of any food.

Bees shouldn't be shipped around to pollinate plants, bones shouldn't be jet-washed, rivers shouldn't be diverted to irrigate crops, animals shouldn't live in tiny cages. No matter if it is a meat, a fish, a plant, the production should not upset the balance of nature in an unsustainable fashion.

And we should never, ever pay £3 for the life of a chicken. I feel really strongly about that.

It is often how we use things, not exactly what they are, that is important. Considering this, means we can realise that we seem to have lots of different ways of saying the same thing. We say we should be zero-plastic, but what we are saying is perhaps that we are against the disposable nature of our mass consumption.

Labels are dangerous shortcuts that pitch us against each other. There is positive opportunity everywhere to make a change, and positive common ground everywhere that we don’t realise exists. We have to listen and hear each other, and seek it out.

3) Nature is amazing.

Nature is fabulous, calming, enduring and still.

Not much appears to happen in nature in each moment, but it is slow and relentless. Nature has existed, adapted, and continued to exist at its own pace, despite the accelerating pace of our own lives.

Reminding ourselves of this, however we can, is good for the planet, but also good for mental health. Looking after a pot of basil, can teach you as much about nature as trying to cultivate the perfect allotment, and can give you a moment of quiet.

Nature does also not give style points. If we want to grow something, then as long as we care for it, then it doesn’t matter what it looks like. We should be proud of our imperfect attempts, because we tried. Nature won’t judge, and will never, ever *like* your Instagram posts. But nature will reward you for your care by giving you joy.

We should take walks, stare out of the window. If we have space on our desks, we can fill it with green, and then start each work day by taking half a minute to tend to it. By taking little opportunities to be closer to nature, we will perhaps remember more often for example about the football pitch of trees and habitats that are destroyed each minute, all over the planet.

There is even something therapeutic about putting your nose really into the ground, even in your garden or in a park, and really smelling the soil. It sounds odd, and looks even odder, but it is wonderful. Nature just does, and is.

4) We all have time.

Most of the little changes that we have made in the last six months, can be planned in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee. And that includes sourcing better coffee.

Start small, make tiny changes, and it is possible.

It helps also to be planned. Planning and being organised has become unfashionable in our hyperconnected world. It is beneath us to be organised, when we can outsource anything we need with a click or a swipe.

However, if we take a half hour each week, to plan a menu for the following week then we can be more resourceful and less wasteful. Even if we don’t exactly stick to all of it, if we mostly stick to it then it makes a difference. It can also become a habit, and thirty minutes becomes twenty, becomes ten.

Lack of time is also a common ground. The gift of time will never to refused. If we use our three minutes of time on our tiny screens during the morning coffee run, to like or share information that can make others all be better organised, less wasteful, and more planetwise, then these tiny changes can change the world.

A world that could have a positive cycle of helping each other and being kind, rather than a negative cycle of competing, boasting, and ultimately all feeling a bit more sad than before.

5) Planetwise, can also mean humanwise.

Being aware of our planet, and trying to be kind to our planet, is also about being kinder to each other. Just as the ground we walk on, and the air we breathe is important, so are the people we share it with.

Some changes that appear to be kind to the planet, are just kind. It is better to pick up litter, as much for the creatures who may accidentally eat it, as it is for those humans who might enjoy the beaches or the countryside that we also enjoy.

In some ways, respecting our planet is about putting ourselves in the shoes of others, and understanding others. It is about making a moral commitment to be kind, and to understand and be accountable to each other.

This is what I believe motivates many of the inspirational people I have discovered as part of the last six months of this project. Many of the discoveries I have made as we have made our small changes - are about individuals, institutions and organisations who have made a moral commitment to the planet.

They might have started to change their own behaviour because of something they have observed. But then they have gone further, and have made our planet’s problems their own, by putting themselves in the metaphorical shoes of the planet, and the actual shoes of some of those on it. And then figuring out how they can change it for good.

This is done through learning , and by being part of the conversation. By being a small voice in a big discussion. I have said before that we are all at the same party here on planet Earth, and frankly right now the party is not going too well. I joined the dance floor, and sometimes it can feel like you’re dancing alone, and it can feel foolish.

It is about seeing the reef, so you can value the reef. By understand the problem, so you can contribute to the solution.

It also means that my brain does strange things. Last night, I had a dream that I was working in the world's first plastic mine. Picking away at the walls, and filling buckets with plastic chips, that were being shipped to somewhere faceless I couldn't see. I still can't work out if that was a wonderful dream or a dystopian nightmare.

I will also add that after 6-months, I am already thinking about the next 12-months, and what the next planetwise challenge can be.

Making small changes work. It is climbing up a hill, step by step. It is pausing along the way, it is take a backwards step in order to take two forwards. It is making choices that you think are right, and being as thrilled by the mistakes and the failures as by the successes, as they are a chance to learn.

Small changes mean that if you are having a bad day, or a bad week, you can look back at the good days and the good weeks. To remind yourself how far you have come, and to galvanise you to continue.

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