On a sunny Sunday in early April, myself and Ciarán headed to Common Ground in Bray to meet environmental activist, Rob Greenfield. The room was bursting at the seams with avid listeners and there was a tangible feeling that maybe, just maybe, a change is coming. Maybe we can turn back the clock on all the environmental destruction we’ve caused.
We’ve followed Rob’s work for a few years now. He first came onto our radar in 2013, when he cycled from San Francisco to Vermont living by his low-energy, low-waste criteria and carrying any rubbish he generated with him. He had no money and relied on the food waste in public skips and bins for sustenance. Needless to say, he never went hungry. As a species, we waste an incredible amount of food. Rob’s passion is minimising the damage we cause to our ecosystem by reducing waste in all its forms.
Opening his talk, Rob told us about all of the extreme projects he has done to highlight how wasteful we are as human beings. The whole point of these projects, Rob insisted, is not so that everyone will suddenly live in a waste-free eco-bubble. It’s about inspiring and encouraging moderation. Rob lives by a simple mantra of 4 R’s:
“Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Refuse what you don’t need. Plastic bags, paper fliers, samples, paper napkins, freebies … refuse it if you don’t need it.
Reduce what you do need. Simplify your life into the things that really matter and cut out the rest. Stop buying things you don’t really need.
Reuse what you already have. Repair things and upcycle rather than dumping them.
Recycle whatever is left.
As Rob went through these points it really became clear that consumer power is the only way this is all going to change. Food and products are mass produced because demand is high. If everyone stopped buying products that are unsustainably produced, they would stop making them.
We need to stop buying food we don’t need. Get into the habit of checking what you already have before you go shopping. In the United States, about 40% of the food that is produced goes to waste and we aren’t much better here in Ireland. Eat the food you have.
We also need to stop buying things unless we really need them. Simplify your life, stop buying stuff and get rid of the clutter you have accumulated to free up time and money for experiences. When you do purchase things, really consider where they have come from. Who made the product? How were they treated? How was the environment treated? Become a conscious shopper.
If everyone did just these small things, the world could be a totally different place. Industrial farming of livestock and crops are devastating the planet. Buying certain products and being wasteful in our homes is basically giving the green light to big businesses to continue as they are. Rainforests are being ripped down at a rate upwards of 80,000 acres per day. As a result of this, our climate is rapidly changing and a staggering amount of species are being wiped out and people just don’t care.
Our planet simply cannot cope with the way humans live. The plastic toys, the factory farmed chicken, the vegetables in plastic bags, the mass produced sausages, the fast fashion, the household cleaners, the bottled water … all things that people buy without thinking but that are a huge part of the reason that we are where we are today.
So, is Rob Greenfield optimistic about the future? An audience member put this question to him. His response was not what anyone in the room expected and put a pin right through that feeling I had at the start of the day that maybe change is coming. The happy, hopeful side of him is optimistic that people are starting to realise that it is their choices that have got us to this point. But the realist in him thinks otherwise.
To hear such an inspiring environmental activist say that he doesn’t think things are going to change is utterly heart-breaking. His advice, however, is to live your life as best you can. It is nigh-on impossible for a human to live on earth and not leave behind some form of waste so it is about reducing the damage you cause to the ecosystem as much as is possible. And then, as Rob says, “When the ship goes down, just know that you weren’t the one to bring it down”.
Visit www.robgreenfield.tv for lots more information and some great videos!