At its inception, ‘think global, act local’ was about empowerment. An endless stream of bad environmental news had affected people. Many became bewildered and overwhelmed.
Concerned individuals could not see how their own effort could make any difference against the global economic juggernaut. ‘Think global, act local’ became an engaging mantra because it implies that there is more than the sum of the parts and, however small, each part matters.
‘Every little helps’, ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’ are hewn from the same psychological rock.
I like that. You probably do too.
Whilst at some level we all know that we are small and insignificant, it is a fact that our egos refuse to accept. So anything that implies greatness, even via aggregation with our fellows, feels good.
Unfortunately, most individual acts actually are insignificant against the tide of economic development. Standing down the bulldozer and chainsaw by living on a platform in a tree at the edge of the forest is meaningful at the time for the tree dweller, the dozer driver and the handful of people following the social feed. But not to the logging company, as rarely will their licence be revoked for long.
In time, the act of bravery and defiance is forgotten and a new agreement reached to create jobs for the timber industry and paper for the printer.
And yes, the cardboard used for the placards at the demo originated in a tree. The road, vehicles and fuel that transported both the protagonists and antagonists to the forest have an environmental footprint. The tree dwellers family have jobs in the city and after tossing their disposable coffee cup into the bin went online and transferred $500 into their daughters account, claiming the gift against tax.
The local act was noble and courageous. It will have raised awareness a little and stalled a poor development decision — for the record I believe that any further logging of primary forest is not development but degradation of the worst kind and that timber production should be all about revegetation and management of already logged forests — only the act did not go global. The thought might have but the action did not.
So here is a suggestion.
Act global, think local.
At first, this sounds stupid. If individuals are and feel so small and insignificant they cannot possibly act globally. It is beyond them and why the original mantra became popular. The best they can do is vote for global change and look where that got us.
But they can think local.
What happens if we think about everything we do. Think about the disposable coffee cup, the commute by car for an hour by yourself, the printer when there is the cloud, and any number of commonplace actions that all have an environmental cost.
If we think we question. The answer might be that coffee is an essential that should not be passed over and, anyway, it was fair trade coffee that spread the love across the world. All right, the thought at least triggered a logic flow.
Do this many times and the logic starts to accumulate.
Gather enough logic thoughts and, before long, the futility of so many of our individual and collective decisions will become obvious.
Do not underestimate the force of this process. Awareness is not a step, it is a leap. It can empower just as strongly as any collective action because it changes individuals where it matters. In their value set. In the way they perceive themselves and the world they live in. In what they believe in.
There is no doubt that environmental issues are the aggregation of all our common actions. A world with over a billion wealthy people, and another three billion more hot on their heels, will strain the limits of natural resources and global resilience. And changing the light bulbs is never going to be enough.
If we think local we become more aware. We start to realise the extent of the challenge and only then does act global make any sense at all.