Written by Jessie Panazzolo
Imagine a world where you are me and you are sitting on my family couch with my mother and she starts talking to you about McDonald’s straws. Are you immersed? Good. Because this was the first of two very similar situations I was in where I was about to say the very same thing about two completely different topics.
My mum went on.
“Did you hear about McDonald’s stores in Europe switching their straws from plastic to paper? How ridiculous is that when there is so much more waste produced from McDonald’s products!”
Next: Sitting in the car with my partner, we were discussing the date of the Hottest 100 music countdown (a huge radio event that almost everyone tunes into) being moved from Australia Day to the day after. He said:
“It is such a pointless gesture to move the date of the countdown and it doesn’t solve anything, like announcing your respect for indigenous land just before an event – I don’t even know if indigenous people even appreciate that.”
In both of these instances, my mother and my partner were outraged that people had been doing something to aid a cause, and they were annoyed that the gesture seemed too small, too tokenistic and too pathetic compared to what could possibly happen in an ideal world. But of course, as most of us know, this world is far from idyllic in the way it operates.
To my mother, I expressed my amazement that McDonald’s – a large multinational company – are initiating a conversation about the problems of using straws. Isn’t that incredible that chains across Ireland and the United Kingdom will be using sustainable products whether they like it or not. For me, I saw a company who was largely economically run, making a decision for the environment and no matter how small that commitment was, it was sparking a great conversation with people like my mum who wouldn’t otherwise be talking about straws. All change has to start somewhere and why condone McDonald’s for starting small and making a change at all when they otherwise may not have. When you condone someone for making a small change, it makes it harder for them to see the benefits of continuing with these changes in the future. I couldn’t understand how my mother’s instant reaction was to respond negatively over a small positive change because it wasn’t big enough. But with all things, small ripples slowly turn into big ripples and change does happen over time as the conversation progresses.
To my partner, I expressed that with each gesture toward acknowledging the suffering of First Nations Australians, it sparks a thought, a conversation and a forced awareness of what most of Australia has been ignoring for decades. Maybe a child would ask why a radio station wanted nothing to do with Australia Day anymore and that could be a great opportunity to educate that child about the impacts of white settlement, where that conversation wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. Every time that someone acknowledges that we are meeting on Aboriginal land, I think about how much the landscape has changed and how we have overruled such a sustainable way of living. I wouldn’t think about this if it wasn’t brought to my attention. Awareness sparks conversation, empathy and thought which wouldn’t otherwise exist in a community and these small gestures may be small for now, but watching Australian culture, you can see the shift in mindset which will provoke bigger changes along the way. Surely an acknowledgement, though far from rectifying years of hardship, is better than nothing at all.
I read a quote the other day that sums this sentiment up very nicely. Edmund Burke once said:
“Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
This is where I ask, what is my mum doing for sustainability and what is my partner doing for the indigenous people of Australia? What conversations have they sparked, what change have they made and what are they doing to better this planet? Obviously, it goes without saying that my mum and partner are two incredible people – hands down two of the greatest people I know, so this story is not told with ill intentions. I more so want to inspire the thought that a small action is still an action and a small change is still a change.
This is the part of the story where I turn into the wise old willow from Pocohontas and drop a pebble in the river.
Grandmother Willow: Look.
Pocahontas: The ripples.
John Smith: What about them?
Grandmother Willow: So small at first, but then, look how they grow! But someone has to start them.
The point I am trying to make is to never underestimate the power of your work, small as it may seem, you are still making a difference. I would like to end this piece with a picture I saw on the internet but instead of putting the picture in, I will describe it for you because this is not a comic book.
A sea of beached sea stars lay stranded across the sand and an old man walking across the beach sees a little boy throwing the sea stars back into the ocean.
“There are thousands of sea stars, throwing them in won’t make a difference!” -The old man said.
“But it makes a difference to this one! And this one! And this one!” the boy said, throwing sea stars into the ocean.
And with that image, I leave you to ponder on the small differences you have made in your life. To me, a week ago when I created this page, I never knew that I could make 200 conservationists feel a little less lonely – and for that I feel a little bit sparkly inside because I went out on a limb and made a small ripple appear.
To be a part of the conversation follow @lonelyconservationists and for more of Jessie, follow @ecolojesst on Instagram