Opinion: The power of one

By Sue Tiffin

Published March 26 2019

When you already feel despair about the current trajectory of the plight of the earth due to human’s impact when you’ve read the research on altered agricultural patterns and rapid acceleration of species loss when you’ve seen the images of the impact of severe weather in the form of droughts and wildfires around the world when you are faced with yet another discouraging headline highlighting today’s new record amount of plastic found in a whale’s stomach the idea that you might make a difference feels hopeless.

What does it matter if you remembered your reusable grocery bags when every bit of fresh produce you buy is enclosed in plastic packaging? If you diligently bring your reusable container for coffee only to have the barista use a disposable cup to pour the coffee from the machine into your mug? If you go plant-based when you’re the only person in the room who chooses that meal? If you bypass the straw at a restaurant when crates of plastic water bottles are being scooped up by neighbours for less than a buck down the street?

The act of being just one person trying to make a difference in and for the world can feel inconsequential and isolating.

But HHSS student Jürgen Shantz is just one person. When he decided to join global protests for action against climate change by skipping school last Friday to stand at the Dysart municipal office he was just one person. But his action galvanized the movement of others so that about 40 people joined him. With that one action he drew the attention of Mayor Andrea Roberts Councillor John Smith MPP Laurie Scott the fellow youth who stood alongside him members of the Concerned Citizens of Haliburton County and was featured by all community media online on the radio in the pages of newspapers.

He was inspired by the action of one person too – Greta Thunberg a Swedish student who is 16 like Shantz and became an internationally-known Nobel Peace Prize-nominated political activist after she started the first school strike for climate change action last August. Her compelling TED Talk has been watched by millions of people and she has spoken at both the United Nations Climate Change Conference and the World Economic Forum. Inspired herself by the Parkland students who organized March for Our Lives she has since motivated people in more than 100 countries to act demanding government officials to take meaningful bold action to reverse the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Naysayers say that these protests will have no impact on anything at all. But they already have had an impact. The youth who have participated are learning more about political engagement about environmental politics and about the power of both hope and action which they can take into their future with them and adults are learning from them.

“[W]e do need hope of course we do” Thunberg said in her TED Talk. “But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope look for action. Then and only then hope will come.”

Action matters even when it starts with just one person.