When you hear people speak about global warming, the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions and the ecological footprint, you will inevitably try to escape the issue of responsibility... most probably because of the global nature of these problems. 'This is not my sphere of responsibility,' you say trying to put yourself at ease. 'What could I do? I am just one in a seven-billion population. How would I, a tiny speck of dust, be capable of influencing the atmospheric conditions of the Earth, the ecosystem and global processes?'
Well, it is becoming more and more evident that the Earth is smaller than previously thought. In barely half a day you can travel from one continent to another. The news media outputs a never-ending stream of reports from the most remote and hidden corners of the planet. Thanks to the Internet, we can connect to a dozen strangers simultaneously. Our planet is a large village where nothing is going to remain a secret, where a handful of politicians make the decisions that will determine the future of whole continents. And if we are to believe what proponents of the Butterfly Effect theory say, the smallest change can certainly affect the whole.
Because, according to the so-called Butterfly Effect, a term now part of everyday language with its origins in chaos theory, if in a chaotically operating complex system a small change occurs in the initial conditions, this can greatly affect the long term operation of the structure. If we are to use a bit of an exaggeration and wish to be poetic, we might as well say that even one airy butterfly fluttering from flower to flower in your garden can perceptibly influence the prevailing winds in your neighbor's garden. Of course, all this has a real meaning only in the fantasy worlds of sci-fi writers. However, this very same principle can gain a new and very useful meaning when applied in the context of environmentally conscious lifestyles.
Idyllic times where the problems of the community, in the country or the world were solved by others in a paternalistic way without us participating are long gone. There seems to be a growing recognition of individual responsibility in the complicated matrix of who must do what. The towering tasks ahead of us consist of just as many levels as human society itself. It is essential to remedy local problems before we can find the solutions to global issues. Everyone has to share this responsibility and it is vital that all of us recognize it. A shift in attitudes is what is needed but it requires systematic life-long learning.
If we can reach the point where each and every one of us feels the urge to collect our home-generated rubbish selectively, if we give up on the idea that we need to replace our durable goods prematurely with nicer ones, if we realize the importance of buying our daily foods from local farmers, if we teach every child that they should not let the water run while brushing their teeth, if we can get young people to power down their home entertainment systems and similar devices after use, then we are on the right track. On the one hand, these conscious decisions can influence others on a rational level because one can easily demonstrate to have achieved tangible benefits such as saving money. On the other hand, they influence others on an emotional level, too, since one establishes positive patterns of behavior that people like to follow. In this way, the tiny flaps of the wings of the butterfly do create a movement where positive ideas are spreading fast. Knowledge then brings about the desired change in attitudes. Accepting and adopting the right patterns helps preserve and protect the planet where we all live, thus contributing to sustainability. Everyone can do something, it doesn’t matter how small it may seem. And not tomorrow. Already today.