Rob Greenfield: How we can be the change we want to see in a "messed up" world

Rob Greenfield and his 111 possessions
© Rob Greenfield

When it comes to walking the green and sustainable walk, Greenfield really puts it all on the line.

We've written about the activism of Rob Greenfield a number of times over the last few years, covering his book, his tiny house, his food waste dumpster diving bike tour, and more, and although those sustainable lifestyle challenges are inspiring, there's nothing like putting it into context to really bring the message home to the rest of us. And now, in just 18 minutes, Greenfield lays out his journey to being the change he wants to see in the world, and makes the case that each of us can commit to making small changes everyday in order to be a positive force in the world.

Sometimes the green scene can attract some of the 'holier than thou' crowd, or people who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, by talking down to people who aren't ready or willing to give up their car, or to go vegetarian, or to boycott every major exploitative corporation's products. And that can be a bit of a tricky maze to navigate as a regular writer and reader of environmental issues and technology, because most of the time, what we're advocating for is incremental change, achievable change, and practical change in our own lives, not a regime change or pie-in-the-sky change for everyone all at once from the top down. Yes, we absolutely need more sustainable and regenerative policies 'baked in' to all levels of society, from federal and state policies down to the local and community level, and we should absolutely be vocal (and vote!) about the issues, but we also need to take personal responsibility for our own daily habits and the (usually invisible to us) externalities of those habits.

For those who let the perfect be the enemy of the good, our individual actions aren't really effective in bringing about change, and only by constructing an eco-utopia can we ever be "sustainable," but for many of us, it has to start at home, and it has to start incrementally. Once we begin asking hard questions about our own needs, habits, and lifestyle, and start looking for less exploitative and more sustainable alternatives, and begin talking to others about our experiences, we begin to influence those around us to do the same, and the ripple effect of living greener can spread far beyond our own homes.

But it's not necessary to undergo a massive lifestyle makeover all at once, even though that can sometimes seem like the message being put forth by activists like Greenfield, because it all starts with one small change, and then another, and a continuing commitment to making those changes. In fact, as he explains in the following TEDx talk, he didn't have a major eco-epiphany, and in fact he perceived himself to be somewhat eco-conscious before he began his uber-green journey, but by making lists of small changes (and a few large ones) he could make, and then committing to them, he essentially transformed his whole perspective, which allowed him to radically reduce his environmental impact.

"The TEDx [talk] is my story of transformation to living a more environmentally and socially just life and shares my many adventures along the way and the lessons I gained from them in living a life that is better for the earth, all species, and myself. The whole purpose of the talk is to inspire people to start making simple positive changes, and one by one transform their lives." - Rob Greenfield

One of the most insightful moments that stuck out for me in this talk is when Greenfield says that "every time something is really easy, really convenient, what that means is that the burden has been outsourced elsewhere," which is sometimes referred to as the externalities of a product or service. For example, your home's electricity might seem clean because the air pollution is actually at the coal-fired power plant and not in your neighborhood, or the cheap single-use products that depend on horrible or toxic working conditions in another country, as well as the relatively cost-free (to the manufacturer and seller) disposal of those products.

However, once you go down this road of examining and researching the full extent of our own footprint on the planet, be warned that it can be a bit overwhelming, and despair and doom and gloom may rear their ugly heads, but just know that you don't have to move into a tiny house and ride a bike everywhere and go vegan and childless to make a difference. Every small positive action matters, and can take you a step further toward a more sustainable life, and while going 'cold turkey' off of fossil fuels can be an effective approach, far more of us will see greater progress with incremental and additive changes in our lives. And once you've made a fair amount of those carbon-reducing changes in your life, it just might be possible to help the transition along to a simpler way.