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I am an activist.
I have not used single-use plastics for a decade. I travel the world helping beach communities identify their worst offending single-use plastics and design strategies for alternatives. I use Instagram and YouTube to inspire others to quit using single-use plastics. To do anything to reduce our impact on our planet. To do anything to reduce our footprint.
As we watch the schoolchildren around the world strike for the lack of action taken to address climate change, it may be worth reflecting on what changes we personally are making. How are we contributing to a cooling planet? Are we even obligated to help? Is it up to the leaders to make the change? Up to the corporations to lead the way? What can one person do?
It is easy to slide into a comfortable apathy when we are not totally sure how we can help. Or perhaps it’s more of a paralyzing overwhelm. Either way, I do not aim to sound harsh, but I do think that is bullsh*t. The fact is, all of us here reading this, we are privileged. We are better off than the majority of the planet. To me, in this time of earthly crisis, our privilege obligates us to action.
In the past year of my plastic activism, I have become increasingly aware of my privilege. I travel to learn the extent of the plastic pollution issue, meet the local heroes working hard for solutions, and fine-tune my messaging to inspire greater global change.
I am not special. I am not looking for fame or glory. I am just using what I have for what I know needs to be done. I am working my privilege for all I can. It is not always obvious, intentional, easy, or comfortable.
What is my privilege?
My privilege is showing up to witness the trash here on Lamu Island, Kenya and being able to leave. It is knowing the mounds and piles of plastic that clutter the children’s path to school, that cover the donkeys’ grazing ground, will be picked through and burned. It is flying in on a fuel-burning jet to Indonesia to take photos with smiling waste-pickers. Tromping through trash dumps in one pair of a hundred pairs of shoes I have owned. Walking through waste that arrived via a fuel-burning ship. Waking up on a plush hotel mattress with crisp white sheets, stepping into an air-conditioned taxi that carries us off to a village of homes built upon bamboo stilts hovering over a floating bed of plastic.
It is privilege to sit back and point the finger at Indonesia and the Philippines as the top sources of plastic pollution when the citizens are sifting through trash with labels from @traderjoes and @woolworths_au.
It is privilege to throw trash “away” and not have to wonder where it’s going. It is privilege to have a recycling bin and to blindly trust the service that swings by to collect the resources. It is privilege if your streets are clean and grass is green.
It is privilege to shop plastic-free. It is privilege to shop at farmers’ markets. Privilege to have access to jars and time to make DIY products and energy to prep zero-waste meals.
I smile here ironically. I smile to juxtapose our awareness against our actions. Our reality versus theirs.
I don’t mention this to guilt or shame. I mention this to inspire us all to use this advantage we may find ourselves having. Or as indigenous climate activist Zac Romagnoli-Townsend said at @newkindfestival, “Weaponize your privilege.”
Do not waste it. Do all you can with your privilege and place in this world to better humanity and our one, our only, threatened planet.
It can feel overwhelming, so I work hard to curate a community where you are safe to learn and grow and work together.