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The most interesting articles on sustainability I read in July.

Welcome to my monthly summary of the most interesting articles I read on sustainability. This month:

  • the exclusivity of climate action;
  • why small actions won’t save the planet;
  • sustainable alternatives to single-use PPE; and
  • the long-term environmental impact of COVID-19.

Article: Plastic-free Is For The Privileged

These people don’t have the freedom to be plastic-free; they don’t even have the money to get started. Sure, you can refuse, reuse, and recycle. But when they’re given food or supplies in plastic, are they expected to turn it down? Low-income families already reuse almost everything they have, and some aren’t provided with the facilities for recycling.

— Mackenzie Pringle

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What’s it about?

Mackenzie Pringle argues that there’s exclusivity to the plastic-free movement, well-intentioned though it is. Some of us can’t afford to decline plastic options or shop at zero-waste stores. Those who can have a massive privilege and it shouldn’t be squandered.

What does it mean to us?

Having been in this situation, I understand how our energy can be focussed only on getting through the day, with few opportunities to consider the environment.

It’s a reminder that — now my circumstances have changed — it’s not enough to simply tell people what they should do; I need to make my privilege work extra hard. I must be plastic-free on others’ behalves, and I must leverage my privilege to make it easier for everyone. I must highlight when opportunities are not equal, and do something about it.

Privilege has been in the news a lot, from Black Lives Matter to the disproportional effects the coronavirus has on poorer communities. The privilege to be green is no less significant. Plastic-Free July may be over, but Mackenzie’s point applies to all kinds of conservationism. I urge you to read the article and to think about your own privilege. What can you do to help those who are less privileged?

Article: Climate Change Activists Are Lying to You

But climate change activists are lying to you. Not intentionally maybe… But we are definitely misleading and perhaps overly optimistic when preaching about the benefits of choosing personal habits that are healthier for the environment.

— Kornelija Gruodyte

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What’s it about?

Kornelija Gruodyte writes about the elephant in the room of climate activism: how those who advocate for personal change on behalf of the environment never mention that it won’t save the planet, at least not alone. We need to promote more impactful action that targets those who do the most damage: government and big business. We need, in short, to lobby and to vote.

What does it mean to us?

It has made me think about how I promote climate activism. The small changes are easy — in theory, see my comments above about privilege — but in reality, the bigger targets, the harder actions, that will have swifter and more dramatic impact.

I wrote recently about my approach to climate activism, and why I write about small changes. It’s inspired me to alter course a little. I will write more about bigger, more impactful changes.

I won’t repeat the statistics, but if we can force change at a governmental or societal level, then the small changes would naturally follow. Read Kornelija’s article to learn where we should focus our energy and our anger.

Article: Healthcare is still hooked on single-use plastic PPE, but there are more sustainable options

No one disputes the importance of keeping people well-protected in hospitals, surgeries and care homes. But with more sustainable technologies and products emerging, it seems the medical sector is getting an easy ride as we try to reduce single-use plastic.

Chloe Way

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What’s it about?

Chloe Way writes about sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic personal protective equipment (PPE). She highlights the staggering amounts that are used and wasted on a daily basis. The alternatives come in two forms:

  • solutions for decontaminating PPE rather than throwing it away; and
  • alternative materials to plastic.

What does it mean to us?

I recently returned from a holiday in Cornwall and was saddened to see discarded PPE everywhere, especially on and around the beaches. Masks were most common. From this article, I am encouraged that there are options out there or in development.

I imagine most of us, like me, never thought much about PPE before the pandemic. Now, even if you don’t agree with wearing it, it’s on everyone’s minds. We can’t escape the fact that we need it — and plastic is the only suitable material in some applications — but we should all strive to make our choices more sustainable. If nothing else, I hope that reading this article makes us all consider switching to reusable face masks.

Other thoughts

One thing that this highlights is an issue around communication. Certainly, I had never heard about the solutions presented here, and I guess this will be true for most of us. Most people know we should use reusable face masks, but is enough being done to communicate why?

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Article: Coronavirus lockdown will have ‘negligible’ impact on the climate — new study

If we do not seize the opportunity to pause, reflect and plan transformative change, the COVID-19 years could end up being just a small and temporary blip in our overall climate trajectory.

Piers Forster

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What’s it about?

Piers Forster writes about work he undertook with his daughter to quantify the impact of the pandemic on climate emissions. Whilst it has been nice to hear the birds and enjoy clean air for a bit, the pandemic won’t have a lasting impact on our climate trajectory. For lasting change, we need significant action.

What does it mean to us?

I took this as a reminder that action is still needed. There are two things that we must keep in mind going forward:

Firstly, we must take any rhetoric about the “great progress” we’ve made during the pandemic with a pinch of salt. Remember that any gains are temporary and don’t let politicians or celebrities use this as an excuse to not do any more now (refer to the article I shared last month, about the language politicians use to discourage action).

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Secondly, any pandemic recovery plan needs to have the environment and sustainability front and centre. There is a massive opportunity here for recovery plans to be built around green ideals, but also a real risk that governments will opt instead for quick and damaging, arguing that returning to the old ways as soon as possible is the only way economies can recover. It doesn’t have to be this way; we don’t have to sacrifice the environment or the wellbeing of our communities just so investors can get a bit richer sooner.

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