Op-ed: A touch of environmental optimism amidst COVID-19

Opinion Editorial by Marina M. McCoy

As many people go without jobs, not being able to make ends meet, wondering what the future may hold; talking about the health of the environment may not seem relevant when you are trying to get food on the table.  Which has people wondering, is climate change linked to COVID-19? My response? Absolutely. How? One of my favorite philosophers Jared Diamond, speaks to this very subject in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The book mainly focuses on how some societies thrive and others… well…. collapse.

What’s the overarching reasoning on why societies collapse? They use up all their natural resources that they depend on and fail to realize that they need to change their habits to sustain their community. In the book, he explains how catastrophic events are typically what makes societies realize that they need to change, and most of the time, it was too late.

Why do I bring this up? I fear that we are heading down the same path. Our ‘business as usual,’ was not working for us. Our constant need for instant gratification and overconsumption of natural resources has proven to have deep negative externalities in regards to the health of our planet and our communities.  If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it has taught us we can all get by with less consumption of goods and services. If we can react and adapt this quickly to a disease, we can make aggressive changes towards fighting climate change.

We are habit-forming creatures. We may doubt that at times, but the truth of the matter is, our systems get ‘shocked,’ but eventually, they adapt to the new normal, and we make it through. The proof is right in front of us. We have significantly adjusted our lifestyles to fit the mandated orders by our government. We can do the same thing with sustainable habits; we can adopt them. As with all new habits that you begin to implement, you shock your system, so it feels a little uneasy. But if you work through it, it will start to feel ‘normal.’

I have been living zero-waste for the past six years, and what I have found that intimidates people the most with living a sustainable lifestyle (besides accessibility) is they feel like it is ‘all or nothing.’ That if they can’t live zero-waste ‘perfectly,’ they might as well not do it at all.

But that isn’t the case. You don’t need to be living zero-waste ‘perfectly.’ You don’t need to be living a vegan lifestyle ‘perfectly.’ And you don’t need to be living a minimalistic lifestyle ‘perfectly.’ What you need to do is try, try every day. Understand that there are going to be slip-ups, but that shouldn’t discourage you and convince you to give up altogether. Work on it every single day and try to improve little by little.

One plant-based meal a week is better than none. Slowly work your way up to eating one or two days a week without meat, and eventually, go longer if you can. Don’t try to go ‘all in’ with living zero-waste, see where you can adjust your lifestyle without it shocking your system to the point of giving up.

The point of this being is, small mindful changes are better than nothing at all. Especially when those ‘small changes’ are made by millions of people. Think about that collective impact.

Let me bring up the point again – we shouldn’t go back to ‘normal’ because ‘normal’ wasn’t working.

We have proven to ourselves that we can live with less: less consumption, less travel, less buying in general. We can manage to take fewer trips to the store, which saves on gas and ultimately saves on pollution. We can learn to appreciate the community right in front of us, instead of feeling like we need to escape to another town or country to have some fun.

I urge you to use this time at home and think about your old habits when everything was up and running ‘normally’. You know… a few months back. How much were you consuming? How much were you traveling? Now with being ordered to stay home, could you start to adapt fewer trips to the store? Could you avoid shopping from big retailers and eating at chain restaurants? Could you instead put your money towards the small local businesses and restaurants? Which, in many cases, are doing more for their employees than the big corporations. Think about that.

I know countless small business owners doing everything they can do to make sure they provide for their employees, even taking personal pay cuts. Yet, big corporations were some of the first to do major layoffs. Saying that it was the only choice they could make, in order to save the company. Meanwhile, their top executives have more than enough money to go around.

It’s time that we stand in solidarity with our community for the long haul. Let’s try our hardest to support local small businesses whenever we can. Let’s do our part to slow down consumption, which will directly aid in the conservation of our environment. Let’s remember the companies that stood up for their employees, our essential workers, our community, the most vulnerable, and the environment during this time and support them now and onwards.

We must ask ourselves, what type of world do we want to live in after COVID-19? And what choices do we have to make to get us there? Do we want to continue to live in a polluted environment where we can’t see the mountains because of all the smog? Or we can’t swim in the ocean because of all the plastic waste? Or do we want to see our environment continue to flourish like it is now?  We can do this. Remember, small incremental changes make a huge difference.

Stay hopeful.

Marina M. McCoy

Marina McCoy is an award-winning Zero-Waste and Recycling Expert. Her company, Waste Free Earth, builds zero-waste strategies and sustainability-focused content for companies and events all throughout the country that furthers their brand and mission. Personally, Marina has been living zero-waste for the past six years and loves sharing her enthusiasm for waste reduction with anyone willing to learn. In her free time, you can find her in the mountains, volunteering, or making waste free dinners with friends.