Last Saturday afternoon I walked, together with 8,000 others, in the People’s Climate March in Amsterdam. It was just after lunch when I had to go, and I had this moment of slight hesitation. As so often, my mind was trying to rationalise my decision: would my effort to participate in this particular march make a difference? Would it contribute to a positive change, a halt to climate change, influence policy makers, or increase the awareness of those seeing us in the streets and on television? Or was I going to waste my effort and only try to erase my guilt for having driven more than 11,000 km in a van the last couple of months?
But knowing and understanding the human mind, and my mind in particular, a little better these days, I didn’t allow it too much time to ponder. I was aware that procrastinating could lead to staying at home instead of taking action. So, I jumped on my bike and cycled to the Museumplein to plunge myself in mass, ready to march.
Straight away felt included in the action, and I made sure I was near the band, which livened up the march by signing protest songs, like ‘Sing for the Climate’ to the tune of Bella Ciao.
And while being surrounded by representatives and slogans of more than fifty different action groups and political parties, I was, once again, forced to see how climate change is related to almost every action and decision in our daily lives, and how the results of all these actions can affect ourselves, others and the environment.
So, it’s not only about what and how much we consume, what we do or don’t do, eat or don’t eat, or where we go or don’t go. Which would, at first glance, seem to pretty much cover most of the decisions you take in life. But it is also about what we aspire to, for ourselves, for others, what we think is good for us, and others, what we value or don’t value in life, which political party and movements we support, what we think makes us happy or will give meaning to our lives, and of course whether we think that our individual action matters or not.
As such, all that we do and don’t do, care for or don’t care for, affects everyone and everything in one way or another: the future for the next generations, our own current living conditions and even more those living far away in areas where the impact of climate change is every day business (even if they are not the main contributors), the distribution of wealth and poverty, the safety of people in risk areas and, of course, the protection and conservation of ecological diversity and wildlife.
And that all makes it such a complex and sometimes confusing issue, at least for me. And I am sure for many more. Because what can you do? Or what shouldn’t you do? What is right and what is wrong? What’s the impact of what I do – or maybe more importantly – of the things I try to not do (such as eating meat) or change?
The answers are not simple and often not very straightforward, or even contradictory. And what do we do with the fact that one action – like eating significantly less meat – can easily be undone by travelling a long distance with a van. How effective and significant is my contribution? Does it matter if I try and consciously resist and fight the temptation which is so often aroused and heavily encouraged by aggressive marketing strategies and advertising, to follow my impulses, buy and consume more than I need and fulfil more than my needs?
Is it useful to support one single cause or commit myself to one movement and take it to the extreme, retreat to a tiny house, get rid of my stuff and become a minimalist, erase all animal products from my diet and become a vegan, and make sure that I only walk and cycle and occasionally take public transport?
Or is it better to do all things differently and a little less to the extreme?
I’m not sure what the right answer is.
What I do know after marching together with all the others that Saturday is that I cannot sit still and ignore the facts (true facts, I would say, not alternative ones) and conclude that increased awareness and action is still essential (it was already five-to-midnight for the environment in the 80s). Everything I do – or consciously decide to refrain from – is important and will contribute to how we live together in this amazing and intriguing world. And I know that for this I will need to further train my mind, to learn to better to resist my first impulses, and so be able to moderate myself and freely choose what I do, choices which are based on my values, and not purely for the fulfilment of my desires.