One small thing you can do for the environment: think about what you buy

Your purchases can make a difference. travelskerricks/Flickr

In my view Australian citizens can bring about change (including positive environmental outcomes) three distinct ways:

  1. By political engagement, such as writing to MPs, voting, or standing for office

  2. Through our regular consumption/economic activities including making ethical food choices.

  3. Communicating to others what we are doing to protect the environment and why we are doing it.

While all three are important, when asked “what’s the one most important thing you can do for the environment?” I tend to think that living our beliefs via our consumption habits is the most important thing. Unfortunately it is sometimes also the most challenging thing we can do.

Since waking this morning I have eaten breakfast using products purchased earlier at my local supermarket. I made consumption decisions about how much hot water to use. I made consumption decisions about how to get to work. And on the way in I made a decision about whether to buy a coffee, what type of coffee it would be, and whether I should accept a disposable mug or provide the coffee shop with something re-usable.

In the same period of time I made no political decisions whatsoever. Nor did I speak to anyone who isn’t well acquainted with my views.

That makes it clear to me: making ethical decisions about what I do with my money, at regular intervals throughout the day, is the single most important thing I can do for the environment.

In line with that view I chose not to consume animal protein.

I believe there is good reason to believe that animal products such as eggs and milk, along with animal flesh, are environmentally problematic.

I don’t know that consumption of animal protein is environmentally damaging per se. But as with so many industrialised processes, in its modern incarnation over-consumption by an ever increasing proportion of the six billion humans on this planet (not to mention expanding numbers of companion animals) seems to generate significant environmental pressures.

Growing animal flesh is water intensive, an inefficient use of plant food, and linked to forest degradation and soil erosion.

So, what is the most important thing I do for the environment? I boycott the modern animal industrial complex.

What is the single most important thing you can do for the environment? You too can engage in a similar boycott. But a word of warning: it is not for the faint of heart. You may well be mocked.

Choosing to do the right thing often involves sacrifice and when that right thing is making ethical food choices then you must make the decision to do the right thing over and over again, multiple times a day, every day of the week. It’s hard work, but well worth it.