As consumers and citizens we have a lot more power to influence businesses, governments, and society than you may initially think. Our individual actions really do add up to force fundamental systemic change. Now is the time to use our voices, our money, and our votes to create positive change.
You’ve heard “vote with your dollar” probably more times than you can count. But in our capital-driven world, we’ve forgotten that we were born first as citizens, before we were consumers. Which is to say, moving the money isn’t the only way we can be part of the change on an individual level. Fully embracing our roles as citizens is a good step, and often one that most overlook.
You might wonder: does it really matter whether we adopt a citizen-first or consumer-first approach? And according to a 2012 study in the journal Psychological Science, it was found that words matter. When presented with a hypothetical situation in which they had to share water from a well, subjects who were labeled “consumers” tended to distrust others and felt less partnership with and responsibility for other subjects, compared to subjects who were labelled “citizens”. And they even did a survey in that same study—participants who answered the “consumer response survey” expressed more materialistic, self-centred values in their responses than those who answered the “citizen response survey”.
So yes, it matters more than you might think. And the more we get labelled “consumers” by businesses, governments, and even society, the more we fall into the trap. What trap are we talking about exactly? That of enacting change by dollar, instead of enacting change by politics. Not to mention, adopting a consumer-first approach tends to exclude a certain lower-income segment of populations. Because if you have to buy your way into sustainability, then inevitably, some aren’t going to be able to afford to do so. All this isn’t to say that moving the money isn’t important—it is—but it cannot be the only approach.
It starts first with remembering that you can’t buy your way into sustainability. A more sustainable, regenerative world cannot be bought. (Some would even say “ethical capitalism” or “sustainable consumerism” doesn’t exist.) Whenever we think about taking #LittleGreenSteps, think: how can we be sustainable without spending extra money?
The next step is to think about how involved you’ve been in politics. Voting every now and then for politicians that care about climate and social justice issues is obvious, but what about the in-between? How can you exercise your rights as a citizen? Are you aware of channels in which you can have your citizen voice heard? Do you know who your representatives are, and have you ever tried emailing them? And of course, it’s not just about individual action. There are citizen groups everywhere, who advocate for and coordinate action on a community level. How have you supported them, and how can you continue to do so?
– When it’s time to vote, get informed and vote in representatives who care about climate and social justice issues
– Find out about your representatives and get in touch with them, via email or in-person if possible, to enact policies related to climate and social justice issues
– Find out ways to support and encourage policies related to climate and social justice issues
– Support citizen groups, or look for a local Extinction Rebellion group if you have one near you, either financially or with your time
– Engage your friends, family, community and talk to them about climate and social justice issues