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Making Impactful Choices

I grew up with an awareness of climate change. I grew up in an era without computers - where knowledge was gained through textbooks, through the occasional program on a black-and-white TV, and blurbs from the radio. One year, as part of a cutting-edge approach to learning, my school requested parents to subscribe to either Time Magazine or Newsweek, so that students could be educated on current events. My father in his exuberance, subscribed to both and made sure that I read as much as possible. And every week the class teacher would engage the students with written homework and group discussions. Thus I learned what would happen if the climate changed.

Even as far back as the 80s and in the 90s, scientists talked of the dangers of chlorofluorocarbons, of increasing emissions from greenhouse gases, of the holes in the ozone layer and the impact on agriculture of global warming. That was then, in 2D on print and paper ...and now within the same lifetime, it's here, in 3D and on our doorsteps. In the space of a few decades not only have we succeeded in exponentially warming the earth, but we have also increased acidification of our oceans and propelled a precarious imbalance of biodiversity, including pushing precious species into extinction.

What is painful to accept is that even though we knew about these things years ago and we had ample warning, we collectively as a society did not change our values. Our values have shaped the world: and our values are evident within our choices. Our choices, in turn, are influenced by our motivations. The primal motivation is hunger. Once hunger is satiated and immediate needs are met, our values are then motivated by convenience, and then by desire. Convenience presents itself in many ways - it connotes comfort, and frees up time for us to do other things. An example of convenience is neatly cut-up fruit stacked in plastic containers at the supermarket (yes, we are all guilty of having grabbed one of these).

And after relying on products that have made our lives convenient, with our newly established free time we then make choices based on desire. We desire to be better, richer, to be envied and adored - and we covet a life of luxury from Bentleys in the driveway to crocodile skin boots. Thus the consumer has conveyed their choices; and the producers of the world will like a magic genie, deliver on these commands. And somewhere in the exchange, both as consumers and producers, we as a society signaled our values. Be it from our motivation of convenience or from our motivation of desire, we are okay with our choices, irrespective of the harm it causes. We are okay with conveniently drinking water from a million plastic bottles a minute - and we are okay with our desire for rhino horn driving precious species to extinction. Bravo. Using our heads is clearly much to ask for.

One might ask, whether we are where we are because of consumers or producers. I think it's a chicken-and-egg situation. The consumer requests, and so the producer makes. And more the consumer asks for, the faster the producer creates. And at some point, the producer creates a version 2.0 and a 3.0 and presents it to the consumer - and the consumer enjoys it and asks for more. And the circle keeps going around faster and faster, till we can't remember anymore who started the situation. During this madness, we spew out styrofoam and pesticides; we pollute religiously with fracking, and kill wildlife because they are in the way. With each passing decade we learned more and more about the impact of these choices - so we mollified them with newer products or marginally mitigated methods, and threw some ad dollars to make them palatable - but we didn't fundamentally change our values.

My sincere hope is that we collectively as a society are not only introspective, but also consciously take intentional acts to change our lifestyles, to preserve biodiversity, and to create a world in which we can coexist, safely. If our values include survival then it must also mean that our values cannot include impunity of the earth. It necessarily means we have to sacrifice some of our conveniences; it means that we have to slow down, in order to restore that frail ecological balance which is the reason we are alive. Recycle responsibly. Repurpose. Plant a tree. When possible, walk instead of drive. Buy whole fruit instead of precut and prepackaged. Switch to a higher plant based diet. Buy an antique instead of forest-killing furniture. Be mindful of water usage. Respect wildlife. Ditch the bottle and switch to bar soap - and reduce your dependence on palm oil.

It is inevitable that every human decision has a carbon footprint. But without changing our values, all we are doing is solving one problem by creating another … what we can do is to take steps collectively to minimize that carbon footprint wherever we can, and make truly impactful choices.


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