“We are constantly hearing these terms, people wanting to change the world. But for me the world doesn’t need changing – the world is lovely – I just struggle with the choices that people make in it.” (Dave Cornthwaite, interviewed recently on my Adventure Podcast)

Although Dave Cornthwaite‘s adventures might appear to be about getting out and engaging with life in a fun and energetic way, I suspect him of having a secret (or maybe not-so-secret) agenda – that he is doing all he can to promote conscious living and the preservation of our environment.

Possibly I am projecting my own environmentalist values onto Dave (and for this I proffer my apologies to Dave and to you, dear reader), but there are more hints in these excerpts handpicked from his latest book, Life in the Slow Lane: A Patient Quest for Adventure (and a fine entertaining read it is too):

Dave Cornthwaite and friend
Dave Cornthwaite and friend

“Human beings are a plague on the Earth, and the rate at which we consume and destroy cannot continue for much longer before drastic changes will be forced upon us.”

And later….

“I believe that the root of each and every problem humans create can be traced back to us as individuals.”

Some might argue that problems are created by governments, corporations, or by the masses, not by individuals. But what are governments, corporations, or masses made up of if not individuals?

I offer three corollaries here:

1. Most of the challenges to our sustainability are due to the sheer weight of numbers of humans on a finite Earth. There are just too many individuals.

Imagine there was a world where we were all living to the same standards as the Western world right now, but we had never exceeded a stable population of half a billion humans (versus the 7.1 billion we now have). Think how many of our problems would never have come into being – overfishing, deforestation, habitat destruction (and hence species extinction), water shortages, intensive farming, soil degradation, agricultural runoff, resource depletion, energy supply, GMO, and so on. We’d still have other issues like plastic pollution and possibly excessive CO2 (and hence ocean acidification), but to a proportionately lower extent. We are victims of our own success, simply too much of a good thing.

Of course, you can argue that this was never an option, that our innovations and technologies would not have come about in any version of reality other than the one we inhabit. We will never know what that alternative world would have looked like. As an intriguing academic exploration of this idea, check out this article on Big Think.

2. Each of us, as individuals, is changing the world.

We might think we are too small and insignificant, as one in 7.1 billion, to make a difference. But many of our problems are the accumulation of tiny habits, day after day, year after year, person after person, across the globe. See this interesting perspective on who is responsible for the Gulf Oil Spill.

Or, on one of my pet topics, the 3.5 million tons (estimated) of plastic pollution in the Pacific gyre, 80% of which comes from land – much of that is litter carelessly discarded in the street and washed into a storm drain, or dropped in a river or on a beach. Yes, there was the Japanese tsunami, which added a whole lot more (estimated 5 million tons) in one fell swoop. We can’t stop tsunamis from happening. But we can make better choices about what we buy, and how we dispose of it. We are all changing the world, and it is up to us to decide if that is going to be a change for the better…. Or not.

(with apologies to Lord Kitchener)
(with apologies to Lord Kitchener)

3. Not all individuals are created equal when it comes to creating change.

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, that you live in the US or the UK or some other developed country. If so, your footprint is probably significantly higher than the global average. But so is your opportunity to influence things for the better. You have education, internet, and social media to help you spread the word. You have great privilege, and with that comes great responsibility. Use it wisely. Your world needs you to step up and play your part in creating a sustainable future for us all.


See also my earlier blog post: What Can One Person Do To Help Save The World From Environmental Disaster.

You may also enjoy The Future We Choose, an anthology from Think Act Vote in which many people share their visions for the future.





  • Don’t forget the devastating impact that all our consumerism and goal orientation has on us! Not only are we destroying the planet, we are destroying ourselves.

    We need to take a cue from the Brazilians and learn to sit, relax, and enjoy the company of people we love. Life is too short to waste on accomplishing things and shopping.

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