straw holds the potential to change your perception on the current state of
global warming. A single, 5 inch plastic straw.
second year of university was very daunting, which it is for a lot of people as
not only are you there to get a degree that holds no promise of leading to a
career, but also forming new friendships is difficult especially with people
you are forced to live with. Thankfully, this year I managed to find a group of
people who want to have a good time at university and get their work done,
which are my kind of people. During a heat wave a few weeks ago we had a day
out in the sun, getting some work done and eating a lot of food. Plenty of
sandwiches and crisps. Walking back from the field, we picked up some fast food
because why not.
I threw my
burger wrapper and chips away into a bin but kept the straw just to play with
while I walked back with my friends back towards the flat. Having something to
play with has always been normal behaviour for me as I’ve been described as
“very fiddly”, which probably isn’t the worst thing I’ve been called in life.
After I’d chewed the straw to ruins I blew it out of my mouth and watched it
fall to the ground, joining the empty crisps packets and used coffee cups
littered all over the street. It’s quite rare for me to litter because I am
rationally afraid of being fined hundreds of pounds that I know I won’t be able
to pay, nonetheless I did it anyway and thought little of it because it was
just one straw.
Something about seeing my straw joining the masses of rubbish
that accumulated just 10 feet from nearby bins made me realise that I couldn’t
have been the only person right then to have done that very same thing. Maybe
it was the sun finally being out and enjoying the start of summer me see all
the rubbish around, but that straw helped me see a bigger picture. A
revelation, if you will.
I asked my
friends why they thought that in 2018 there wasn’t a unanimous agreed upon law
by world leaders to make positive strides in improving the environment, and why
no one is held accountable when considerable damage is done to environment
during wartime or oil spillage disasters and the like. One my friends, a
Sociology student, and the oldest out of all of us, said that in some traditional perspectives, damage to the environment isn’t considered to be in the same category as crime
between people, as plants and ecosystems aren’t harmed in the same way that
As argued by the group, this way of thinking is very outdated as to
hurt the environment is only harming human life in the long run. A tweet I’d
seen earlier that week by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said that planet
Earth will ‘survive anything we throw at it. But Life on Earth will not’
(Twitter, 2018) and as apocalyptic as that sounds, I think it is important that
even on an individual basis people need to take better care of this planet.
The Environmental Consciousness
also told us about a sociologist called Giddens who presented a paradox in
human nature towards the issue of global warming. The consequences of global
warming will not take effect immediately and so people today may not see it as
an issue that needs to be given immediate attention. However, this way of
thinking will lead to the inevitable future where it will be too late to right
the wrongs of the past.
Seeing all of this rubbish flutter around the city
centre triggered images of mountains of rubbish that I’d never seen with my own
eyes to race through my mind, striking me on a level I didn’t think was
possible. Suddenly my environmental consciousness kicked into overdrive and I
realised how easy it was to add to the damage to the environment, and think
little of the consequences as you are doing it. Thinking of the thousands of
plastic straws that were improperly recycled by the millions and millions of
fast food customers every week, made me realise how important and immediate the
issue of “fixing” the environment is.
Over the last
few months in South Yorkshire, there has been a rapid increase of trees being
cut down as part of a large operation to fix the roads and pavement across the
entire county. In the process, hundreds of old trees are to be cut down and the
saplings being planted to replace these old trees aren’t sufficient enough to
adequately replace the adult trees that are being cut down. In some cases these
small saplings have been reportedly vandalised and may take anywhere between
10-15 years to reach adulthood.
I had the opportunity of filming a protest event outside of Sheffield’s Trades
and Labour building where members of the Labour party were meeting. Labour
controls Sheffield City Council. One of the protesters was a fourteen year old
boy who, despite his age, saw the same paradox that Giddens theorised about and
very passionately believed that the older politicians will have to live with
the consequences of this operation, far shorter than himself and people his age
would have to.
Seeing such fierce advocacy for change in someone so young was
an odd sight to see in person yet I was reassured in knowing that he wasn’t
alone. There are plenty of intelligent young people around the world, who are
frustrated with how the world is and want to set things right for their
generation and future ones. Alas, there are plenty of people in older
generations who dismiss young people as being “snowflakes”, easily offended and
angry for no reason. A truly inaccurate title that is becoming attached to
I think as a
general consensus for the common human, the attention we pay to our environmental
consciousness is quite low on the list of things to worry about in life. The
little things we could be doing on a daily basis to improve the environment
around us are often dismissed because we have to go to work, to pay for rent
and constantly fix our sleeping patterns, because a new show came out on
Netflix. I follow various zero-waste Reddit and Instagram pages to find the
latest tips on how to up cycle the things around me that might go to waste, but
I seldom put these tips into practise.
Finding reassurance in knowing that I am
doing my part to contribute is often at the bottom of my ever-growing list of
things to-do. Similar to many controversial issues in the world, this mentality
of “Surely I can’t change things, I’m just one person” is often what divides
entire communities from ever being able to come together and make great change
in the world. This same attitude is why 35% of registered voters didn’t show up
to the ballots in the 2010 UK general election (BBC News, 2018).
Tried and Tested Mentalities
Growing up I
noticed this mentality strongly imbedded in people within my family. My uncle
had a very clear idea about everyone in the world doing the right thing and
giving their best effort to keep the your conscious clear, whereas my mom had a
similar mind state to many other people of only caring for those within the
immediate family. It wasn’t a disheartening thing to constantly hear that
individual action couldn’t lead to considerable change throughout the world, because I would read about people like MLK and Malcolm X who lead great
movements and spearheaded change throughout history.
belief in individual action leading to significant change was so great that it
compelled him to join the army, and growing up around a time when people in my
family were finally starting to figure out what they wanted to do with their
lives, helped me shape my own understanding of the world.
I believed that it was
everybody’s role in society to do their bit for the sake of providing a balance
in society, ensuring the world ran smoothly. It wasn’t until I developed a
great sceptics mind whilst studying sociology at high school, where I started
to realise that not everybody in society has intentions to go out into the
world and spread peace and positivity. Some people just don’t conform to
society as utilitarian as some of us would hope.
Moral Obligations to Society
wrote at the end of a very long essay in my last sociology essay during
A-levels went something along the lines of “No one is obligated to give
anything back to society despite everyone living in it. But if we all stopped
believing in these obligations that we give ourselves, then society falls
apart”. As intellectual as I thought I was being in my exam, I think I was
finally realising that everybody has intentions in the world, but not all of
them are good, and not everyone has the goal of spreading peace throughout the
Anyone willing to risk their lives for something they believe is right
is truly commendable, but even as a child I didn’t understand that if your own
people back home aren’t upholding society then what is everyone fighting for?
Are these obligations to society as important as we are told they are? We have
to at least believe in leaving the world better than we found it, for the sake
of admitting that we did our best to better the world to future generations.
consideration how little my groups’ few bags worth of litter weighs in compared
to the amounts dumped into landfills across the world, it all adds to the
upsettingly long list of cases where the responsibility of government bodies
and communities to protect each other and the environment from this scale of
environmental harm is completely disregarded. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said,
the Earth will be fine no matter what we do to each other.
Yet somehow it seems
very likely that humans will bring about the fall of the human race. The growing
laissez-faire attitude towards this level of negligence when it comes to taking
care of mother nature would result in ruining beautiful wildlife that are
continuing to die at increasing rates, some we will even see become extinct
within our lifetime. It would mean shorting life expectancies for future
generations that we will never get to meet, and it will ensure the deaths of key
ecosystems that provide so much life and value to the rare, perfect conditions
for allowing us to live on Earth.
Not only do world leaders need to make active
efforts in communication and cooperation to ensure we are metaphorically
putting the right foot forward as a human race, but also swift action needs to
be taken to ensure that future generations can benefit from whatever we leave
behind. Change on a global scale could mean a great deal when combined with the
efforts of individuals, of others willing to match their enthusiasm and
desperate to pass that activism onto future generations.
‘A man has
made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants
shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit’ – David Elton
Trueblood (Trueblood, 1951).
(1951). The life we prize. New York: Harper.
Harvey Perry is a green political