Sustainability and Community: What Can One Person Really Do?

What can one person really do? 

For many people, it seems like there is almost nothing that one person can do, apart from participating in a movement to change the government. What impact does recycling some cans and using less water really have? In the face of such a daunting global problem, it can seem like trying to influence the government to make new legislation is the only thing that one person can do.

I do not believe that this is true.

I believe that people feel too much pressure to “change the world”, and this can certainly seem overwhelming. The world is a big place. If you are one of these people, I have a suggestion for you while you are waiting for the government to first somehow become all green, then go through 5 years of committees, only to make a 15,000 page bill that, while well meaning, does more in the way of unintended consequences than actual good.

Focus on one’s community as an in-between

The simple insight I would offer is this: It is far easier for one individual to start a movement to change their own community than an entire nation or the world. From here, a community, whether it be a county, a town, or a small city, can potentially influence many other people and communities. Currently, there is not much is the way of “sustainability news from local communities”, but when a story along the lines of “look what the people in so-and-so town have accomplished”, it can inspire people and other communities all over the nation — or even the world.

Individuals are better suited to change their own community

It is presumptuous to believe what what may work from your cultural perspective is good for the entire nation or world. Unfortunately, this is what most attempts to change the entire nation via the national government amount to — presumptuous thinking. No solution is ideal for every community, and sweeping legislation such as some “green New Deal” that require all communities to conform to some mold is not only impractical, but flat out counterproductive.

Individual communities need a significant amount of freedom to move in the direction that suits them best. This is important because the solutions to the constant new problems we will face in seeking sustainability (it doesn’t start and end with climate change) are most likely to come from a diversified culture in which state systems vary — sometimes greatly. Just as the best base of ideas come from a diverse range of individuals, so it is with communities. Massive sweeping legislation along the lines of some green New Deal is undesirable in the same way that cultural uniformity is.

Community can multiply individual efforts

I suggest that activist work to transform their own community for three reasons. First, they live in their community and are more in tune with that community than the millions of other communities in the world (an impossible thing). Second, they stand a much greater chance of transforming their community and actually achieving something than protesting to try and get their national government to change (hint: this will never happen unless the voter base changes — something which ideally happens in one’s local community). Third, transformation of one’s local community stands a good chance of inspiring others around the nation and world.

Thus, what you do in your own community can resound throughout your entire society.


In answer to the question — “What can one person really do?” — I would close by saying that it is a far less daunting task to transform one’s community than it is to “change the world”. Nobody has succeeded in “changing the world”. Movements change the world because the people in those movements succeed in transforming their communities, which collectively change governments, institutions, and economies. 

So rather than ask “what can I do to change the world”, ask “what could my community become that will influence and inspire the world, and what can I do to make that happen?”

One thought on “Sustainability and Community: What Can One Person Really Do?

  1. This is so great. Thanks for sharing! I don’t think at this point we can wait around for the government to save the environment. We absolutely need to take a stand in our own lives. Admit our short falls and make a change. We need to inspire others and make changes in our communities 🙂 I’m trying to inspire individuals through blogging to be more sustainable and live a healthy life.


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