What keeps us from acting for a healthy and just environment?
This is blog post focuses on environmental decision-making and why it takes us as individuals so much strength to join the collective struggle for a climate-just and environmentally sustainable future.
Wellbeing cannot be individually grasped. Instead, it affects the individual within a community in relation to a specific cultural-natural environment. This understanding of wellbeing foregrounds one’s inherent embeddedness in an environmental and social system. Do not be fooled that your unconstrained consumption of food, water and energy does not generate consequences in your closer environment. Often times these consequences hit home delayed and trick your mind in believing that they are not related to your own decision-making behavior. But they will, and they do already.
If science does not convince you, then perhaps your grandparents. Why not ask them about the changes of harvest yields, the length of droughts, the frequency of flooding and their impact on farming lands, or how recent and recurring extreme weather conditions have been destroying residential areas and infrastructure? Climate change and biodiversity loss are manifesting themselves in our neighborhoods, be it in rural or urban areas. And it does so differently across places in the world while also being felt differently by individuals and their communities– be it in different neighborhoods of your city or across the world more generally speaking. What can be stated is that those who already struggle with structural disadvantages and systemic poverty are more vulnerable to those environment and climate related impacts.
Here in Mitrovica
Let’s move from abstractions to everyday life realities. I am part of the Mitrovica team of GAIA and we have been devoting our energy to the construction of a rooftop garden on top of the library building of the city. Together with children and friends of GAIA and a local cultural initiative, 7 Arte, we crafted DIY raised beds, water irrigation systems, raised seedlings with love and care, and organized weekly meetings. These events were mostly visited by high school students from the city and our friends. Although modest in numbers, we were regularly visited by a few children who showed keen interest in what we are doing and to what ends we are taking our time to build a garden on top of a building in an urban environment. We certainly spent lots of time discussing the environmental and climate challenges already affecting the river flows of the local rivers, Ibar which is considered the most polluted river in Kosovo or Sitinica that shares an equal degree of heavy metal and bacterial pollution due to irregular domestic and industrial waste disposal. Similarly, we looked at the consequences ofprolonged periods of draughts on harvest yields by local farmers.. These local challenges were then compared with global patterns of environmental degradation and climate change –to make sure that Mitrovica’s case is no anomality and can be understood in relation to much wider environmental and social challenges. Despite passionate talks about climate change and its impact on water resources, often enough I would come across the phrase – but what should we do, we are only students and its mostly big industries and the political elite that either takes measures against the consequences of a fossil-fuel reliant economy, deregulated market economy nor does it pro-actively invest in public awareness of non-standardized waste-management or the health consequences of building another coal plant in Kosovo.
What can I do?
It should come only naturally that you begin to wonder what can you do against these localized global and interrelated consequences of our current way of living, consuming and producing? The possibilities are nearly as overwhelming as the gravity of the issue. One can and should do its part according to their own needs and demands. Instead of being exhausted by the mere thought that an individual could mitigate the pollution levels released by an outdated coal power plant, as it is the case in Kosovo, look into your backyard and take some time to consider your own CO2 footprint. It clearly takes more thanto watch “Before the Flood”, and be blown off your feet by the cinematic visions of climate change induced environmental and human suffering to make us transform emotive social media tweets about it into feet.. In fact, social media, albeit being an effective tool towards engineering collective action, it can trap your agency by making you feel like you’ve contributed through your tweet and therefore you need no longer act on it. Similarly, by engaging with environmental awareness raising online only, you may wind up overwhelmed by the infinite amount of emotive and reactionary content on problems and issues without attaining contextual knowledge on how the current situation came about and what can be learned for the future.
Why do I often fail to make more environmental friendly decisions?
Coming back to the comment of being to young from our volunteers in the Open Days, it is noteworthy that age plays a factor in one’s access to knowledge in some cases, but it is not an excuse for being able to resist to current ways of living, if not changing one’s own habits and everyday consumptions. When it comes to decision-making, there are numerous ways of decreasing one’s impact on the environment. Yet to change one’s habits is easier said than done. Research about environmental decision-making points out to us that we deal with the environment similarly with the way we make decisions to consume and buy things. A theory looking at these processes is called “Behavioral decision theory.” It refers to the nature of us being decision makers who are confronted with cognitive limitations, illusions and framing, self-control, updating, confirmation bias, identification with means/methods and heuristics/intuition. At the same time, our social, political and economic context that we live in is highly changing and unpredictive. Together, these dimensions of behavioral decision theory inform us with the different mental process that prevent us, or prompt us to take action. In the case of Mitrovica, it would be foolish to say recycle and bring your bags to the closest trash site. There are no centralized recycling facilities in the municipality. Most of the trash lands either in a landfill, is shipped to a neighboring country or burnt.
What I can tell you, though, is to start your own compost in your backyard. Nothing is easier than that while, at the same time, you mitigate the current mismanagement of waste in your livelihood by preventing organic trash to end up in landfills producing greenhouse gases. Another benefit from doing your own compost is that you literally do not waste any food since it will be decomposed and turned into fertile compost. This soil can go straight into your vegetable garden and save you some Euros on garden soil.
Wrapping up this blog, if this is your first time reading about environmental decision-making and you do not believe in climate change, or your own capability to make a change I most likely cannot convince you to change. , It is proven that news will most likely not make you act as long as it tells you about distant threats that are far from your everyday reality and do not affirm what you believe to be true already. Bear with me though because this blog is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that tries to bring afore different explanations on societal, cognitive, economic, political, cultural, religious or environmental factors that enable or disable our concrete contributions in the collective strive for climate just politics and a healthy.