What can the individual do?
In an age where the individual is made to feel more insignificant with each passing day, what can one do to change the world around them?
The world is and has always been a ‘mass world’, but never has this been more pronounced than in the past two centuries where the power of mass communication has brought the feelings and actions of millions of people to the ken of an individual. Mass media has enhanced mass hysteria and has removed a sense of individual responsibility for individual actions taken. One of the areas in which this effect has been most pronounced is in climate change and the discussions around humanity’s responsibility for it.
Mass consumption unlocked massive economic potential for the emerging capitalist world. However, consumerism, ever so encouraged by mass media, is hastening man-made climate change. Sustainable consumption is anathema to the capitalist enterprise that thrives on perpetual mass consumption. Products are being designed with shorter life spans to ensure that the consumer will continue to patronize the industry. Newer models of products with only marginal improvements over their predecessors are aggressively marketed and advertised. The effect is to make the individual feel that what they have is outdated and spark a desire to buy the ‘new’ model and dispose the ‘out-of-date’ model. The net effect is that we have a world choking on unnecessary waste while frantically sourcing for resources to make more.
On climate change, the illusion of the mass may have the individual thinking that the entire world is living a carefree existence, wantonly destroying nature and disrupting ecosystems for the sake of it. Through the mass media, we get to learn of fracking operations and pipeline projects. We learn that some parts of the world like the USA and China are still stuck on coal and other non-renewable sources of energy. Through the media, we learn that countries far off like Brazil and India are also displacing indigenous peoples forests and destroying the said forests.
The mass media transmits mass apathy. It is easy for the well-meaning individual to be pulled into nonchalance and hopelessness based on what they see on the media. Why should I strive to consume sustainably if the world is going to waste anyway? Why should I abstain from plastics if the rest of the world will continue using them anyway? How can I, just by myself, reverse the damage that is being done by millions of people? How many trees can I possibly plant and nurture to counter the deforestation going on elsewhere? If I switch to renewable and more sustainable fuel sources, will the earth even notice the change? Will the energy I conserve be significant enough on the grand scale?
These are valid questions in an age where mass action has been at the nexus of most major changes. Yet, even mass action starts with the actions of a single individual. The answers to saving our world lie with individuals. It takes an individual decision to start living sustainably by oneself. The choice to abstain from plastics is an individual one. The decision to use energy more smartly and efficiently is an individual decision. It is upon individuals to demand for more environmental friendly practices from the businesses they patronize. Though such actions may seem insignificant or small on a global scale, they are a start. It is from these singular seeds that the world will slowly awaken to the recklessness with which we have been living. The survival of the world will ultimately depend on the strength of individual wills and the triumph of individual logic over the pull of mass hysteria and global peer pressure.