Save the Planet. Next Action:...? - Next Action Associates

I wasn’t planning to set any goals for this year. Many areas of my life are in reasonable shape as we start the year, so I thought I’d cut myself some slack and had resolved not to be quite so resolute with my targets.

It turns out it isn’t that simple. After four-ish decades of annual goal setting it was almost a reflex to have my thoughts turn to what I’d like to have different at the end of this year.

There were the usual suspects of course, but this year there was a newcomer: reducing my impact on the environment.

To put that in GTD®-speak, if the project is ‘Save the planet’, I was looking to identify the sub-projects and next actions that will make a positive contribution to the survival of the species.

I thought that would be easy, but setting useful goals in this domain has proved to be much harder than I thought.

Why? Well, it is difficult to make good choices if you don’t have good information, and everywhere I looked it seemed like the environmental costs of my actions were either hidden or very hard to work out.

How do you change things in a world where the most quotidian thing – having a cup of java on the way to work – has become so fraught. How could it be otherwise when the coffee cup you thought was recyclable is most likely going to landfill, along with 16,000,000,000 others. That’s billion, with a ‘b’. Per year.

Or where flights look cheap, but by implicit agreement we are outsourcing a big chunk of the (environmental) costs to our descendants.

And everything is linked, and one is quickly turning in circles. Here is about 30 seconds of my internal dialogue as I searched for impactful goals:

“So no more planes then.

But I need to fly for my work. Well, we could at least do stay-cations.

Fine. Now that we’re staying home, what shall we do? How about some shopping?

Amazon seems the cheapest option. But wait, the streets are flooded with vans delivering parcels, and those parcels have items that are packaged, the packaging has bubble wrap that has cardboard to protect it. Getting to what you actually bought can feel like playing with polymer covered Russian dolls. Hmmm.

Okay, then we’ll shop on the high street. Get an Uber. Well, yes, Uber seems cheap, but long term not so much, what with the tens of thousands of vehicles circulating in the centre of any urban centre they have graced with their service.

Public transport then. But even out on the high street, it’s hard to evaluate the real costs of the £4 t-shirt in the sale bin. I can afford it, sure, but do I really want to subsidise child labour in developing countries for a shirt I’ll wash a few times (producing nefarious microfibres) before it is unfashionable and gets thrown away. Only – as Annie Leonard pointed out – there isn’t actually an ‘away’ to throw the things anymore.

Yes, but when I buy things I’ll bring my own bag. That will help.

Sorry, apparently the outsize virtue that I feel when I use a fabric bag at the supermarket probably isn’t going to save the polar bears, orangutans or tigers, particularly as it took 40 times more resource to produce it than the old plastic one.

Stop buying things? But if we all stop consuming, won’t the economy crash?”

So very confusing. Complex doesn’t even begin to describe it, and the scale of changes we need to make – individually and collectively – is so big that we can’t really even talk about it properly as a society.

For those of you who think you might have stumbled into a blog by Greenpeace, there is a link to our topic of mutual interest. One of the things that came to me as all of this was rattling around in my brain was that creating and running a healthy eco-system for staying on top of my life was refreshingly simple.

All I have to do is capture the things that have my attention, think them through on a reasonably regular basis, put the results of the thinking in one place so I can make sure they are up to date which helps me make great choices about what I do next.

Easy-peasy. All the info we need is available in us or around us, and next to what it will take to save our planet, a Weekly Review® looks like a walk in the park.

Apart from turning the power off at the mains every evening and carrying a reusable cup through my day, I’m still struggling with making impactful choices about my environmental goals for the year, but at the very least I can know what I’ve committed myself to and what I’m not doing as I finish this piece.

It’s a small comfort as the waters rise….

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