Live By is a project begun from a place of deep frustration and existential concern.
This doesn’t make for a very sexy pitch deck but I’d wager that it’s one of the most compelling reasons to do anything. At least anything worthwhile.
For years, I’d been hearing that the climate was changing in a way that would cause serious damage in the future, that ice was melting in the Arctic, that animals were dying en masse, that the seas were filling up with plastic… basically, that our collective actions were ruining the planet for all life – plants, animals, and indeed, us humans.
As I began to read more about the scale of the problems that were emerging, one from another, I, like so many others, wanted to do something, anything to feel like I was helping rather than just harming.
But what could be done? Where to start? It was clear that the problems were huge. Massive. Greater than any one individual could tackle on their own.
So what could I possibly do?
I knew the question but I didn’t have an answer.
What I did know however – and the thing that continues to keep me awake at night – was that I needed to take action. If only to try and reduce my own impact in some kind of meaningful way.
So way back in 2017 I started speaking to scientists and academics working on, with, or around some of the environmental issues we often think and hear about in relation to the problems of our times. I would ask each of them the same question – and probably the one we all find ourselves coming back to time and again:
“I’m an individual who cares deeply about these things – what’s the single most impactful thing that I can do?”
From the many vague and often non-committal responses I’d receive to this question, the closest tangible answer I received was usually something along the lines of “stop emitting carbon”, or “lower your footprint”, or my personal favorite super vague (and seemingly non-tangible) solution; “reduce your impact”.
Ok! Great! Some places to start!
So, I began by looking at my personal carbon footprint and trying to work out how I could bring it lower.
According to a 2017 study the four lifestyle choices that are most likely to reduce your carbon footprint are “eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car free, and having fewer children.”
I unpacked these points one by one, in the ways each seemed to apply to my lifestyle:
- I already ate a predominantly plant-based diet, only eating meat once or twice a month. So there might be some room for minor improvements here – meat-free months? totally vegan?
- On average I probably fly 1-2 times a year, although that number has now conveniently plummeted down to a nice and sustainable ZERO flights as a result of the pandemic, however I think potentially black swan events probably don’t count when it comes to carbon counting.
- I haven’t owned a car since 2010. Whenever and wherever possible, I walk to get somewhere, otherwise I take public transportation. No room for improvement on this front either.
- I don’t have any kids. This may change in the future, but at the time of writing there’s nothing I can do here either to reduce my footprint.
So at the top level, I could make some minor additional tweaks to my diet (check) and think twice before taking a flight (check).
At this point, I didn’t need to be an environmental scientist to see that minor tweaks to my already primarily plant-based diet and finding ways of bringing my average of two flights down to one is probably NOT going to impact any kind of meaningful change on the greater problems facing society.
Basically, I was right back to square one.
I was left with a slightly tweaked version of the same unanswered question I had at the very start:
“What else can I do to make a difference?”
Except now even more time had passed since I first started asking the question and the external situation continued to worsen.
So I started asking my friends – “What are YOU doing?”
Everyone I spoke to expressed similar concerns to mine. They were frightened about the future but felt completely powerless as to how to act or what to do to make any kind of difference.
The findings from my second ad-hoc and unscientific survey: everyone had stopped using plastic straws, most now brought their own reusable bags to the grocery store and bought food in bulk where possible, most also now ate some form of plant heavy diets, and many reused containers and jars. Few had kids. Some flew more than others. All of them recycled.
Of course, this sample is biased since these people were all my friends and therefore shared a set of characteristics that brought us all together in the first place – but still, this group of people were educated on what was going on, were concerned about the future and had a desire to take action, but none had an answer about what they could do. Most were acting on the commonly proposed actions we frequently hear (e.g. metal straws, eat less meat, use less water) but none had any real conviction or belief that these actions were actually making a quantifiable difference.
Around this time I sat in on a talk about the EU’s environmental policy and ended up having a conversation with someone about the role of the individual versus governments and corporations. This conversation followed along the similar lines seen often in the media – basically, that the only way to address the problems facing humanity is through deep, systemic change which just can’t be achieved at the individual level.
In other words, individual actions don’t make (enough of) a difference.
At its core, I don’t disagree with this statement.
All governments need to do better. They need to put the environment at the centre of policy-making and need to prioritise de-growth over “business as usual”. Major corporations, who are the greatest contributors to carbon emissions and pollution, need to stop offsetting responsibility for their actions onto individuals and more importantly – they need to stop pursuing growth at any cost.
But this is not happening. This is also highly unlikely to ever happen under the current systems we build our lives, societies, and culture around.
Governments are desperately trying to ensure a continuity of “business as usual” when all around us, it feels as though things are anything but ‘usual’ (and wasn’t it this that got us into this mess in the first place?). On top of this, despite the recent surge in social justice mission statements, corporations aren’t changing their behaviour either.
If the two primary actors responsible for making deep systemic change aren’t doing what needs to be done then this leaves the concerned individual.
So again, I’m left asking the question “but what can I do?”
I eventually came to the conclusion that if the ability for an individual to action change is minimal, then what’s needed is a LOT of individuals all working towards the same goal.
Logic dictates that if you have enough individuals all taking the most impactful actions possible, then you can reach a similar tipping point in which governments and corporations (or those able to make systemic change at the higher levels) are forced to take the kinds of dramatic actions necessary to mitigate the worst of the problems caused by climate change and biodiversity loss. And along the way we each cause less harm, which is better for everyone.
And so with this objective in mind, I started building Live By.