Q: Sometimes people look out at the world or they hear these scary stories about global warming and climate change and it feels so overwhelming, and often times it can make somebody just feel helpless to do anything about it. What can people do to get involved? What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a part of the change, but just doesn’t know how they can make a difference?
WM: Well, if we had a lot of time I would give you a story of a hummingbird – I usually give the story of the hummingbird and say that this hummingbird – well, I can’t tell you it all but if you google it you might get that story because I have told it so many times it is now in the Google [note: here is the link]. But it is essentially the story of a hummingbird that refuses to join the rest of the animals when a forest is burning and instead decides to go and bring water from the river, with its little beak, takes a drop of water every time and brings it and puts it on the fire. But the fire is so huge. But the moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter how small the action is, if we all do the little we can, collectively we can make a difference.
And there are very many little things that we all can do. For example, I learned in America a long time ago, the three R’s, the principle of three R’s – reuse, reduce, recycle. And as I say those words, there are so many things individually we can do to reduce – we don’t need to consume as much as we are consuming. Reduce. And by reusing, we can reuse a lot of things we just throw into the dumpsite. And reduce the production. The more we reuse, the more we can reduce. And in Kenya, one of the ways in which we do that is to promote the use of reusable bags instead of using plastic which is then thrown into the environment, especially the very thin plastic. The other thing that I learned from Japan was that you can also try not to waste, especially people who live in very highly industrialized worlds – they are so wasteful. And we waste because there is plenty.
And this concept in Japan, by the way, is called “Mottainai” and it is a concept that is based in Buddhism and it used to encourage Japanese before they became so rich – it used to encourage them to be grateful about what they get from their resource, from their world, from their environment – to not waste resources, and to be grateful. And also to be respectful. Respect, be grateful, do not waste. And I was told as the Japanese children would eat rice, even if they left one grain on their plate they would be told by their parents, “Oh, what a mottainai! You finish your food!” And it’s only one grain of rice. So, there is so much wasted of resources where we have a lot of it.
And let me give you a story – recently I was in the Congo, and I was visiting a very commendable milling factory in the middle of the Congo forest. And that factory is supposed to be harvesting trees sustainably. That is why I had gone to visit them. And they did demonstrate to me how they take these huge, 200 year-old trees, and they actually mark the tree that they are going to harvest. And I was very impressed. But – eventually when we go to the factory, I asked them, “How much of this tree do you use?” And they told me only 35% – the rest is wasted! The rest is put on fire because they have nothing to do with it – they say they don’t know what to do with it, so they allow people to come and burn it into charcoal – literally burning it, reducing it into ashes. That’s waste. So when we say, please do not waste. Be respectful. And be grateful. You know, when I looked at that tree and realized that only 35% will be used, I just thought to myself – what a mottainai! Wasting 65% of a tree that is 200 years old. Honest.
So there is a lot that we individually can do. In our homes, when we go shopping, as we travel, there is so much we can do. And even though we think that that particular action at an individual level may be very small, just imagine if it is repeated several million times. It will make a difference. So that hummingbird’s actions may look very small, but it is very powerful if it is repeated many million times.