'Agreement Reality: our Environmental Consciousness' / India Flevell
India Flevell is a young environmental activist originally from Byron Bay and now living in Melbourne. She has organised numerous environmentally-focused initiatives and ceaselessly campaigns for the implementation of more sustainable behaviour within the broader community.
We walk the streets. Our eyes so used to the sight of crushed cigarette butts on the pavement, laying like the lifeless bodies of marine animals which are the ones to suffer from this normalised form of carelessness. It's a concrete jungle, who’s to care? I think that in the case of littering cigarette butts, society is blind to the simple and obvious fact that our gutters lead to drains and those drains lead to the ocean. A lot of the people flicking their butts oh so casually on a night out in the city probably wouldn't be doing it at the beach or in a rainforest. Some of them, maybe, but most of them not.
Our minds are good at hiding the facts for convenience's sake. When I was a teenager and went through a smoking stage, my mum told me not to litter my cigarette butts but she didn't tell me why. You'd think the reason why would be obvious: because it's bad. But we need to get the word out there of why it's bad. So as a teenager when I moved to Melbourne I did litter my cigarette butts despite the fact I was vegan, donated to Sea Shepherd, and blah de blah. Even despite the fact I once stabbed a kid in the knee with a fork because he wouldn't stop chucking his rubbish out the school bus window.
If someone came up to me and simply said to my 16-year-old, cigarette-butt-littering, self “hey do you know those gutters lead to the ocean and your cigarette butt is harmful enough to take the life of a dolphin?” I would have stopped. And as I grew older and learnt more about the why rather than just the what, I'm increasingly shocked at my own past behaviour. Since then, I have made it my endeavour to help people become aware of the impact of their littering so they can make their own choice to stop.
You see, the outcomes in society come from agreement. Our society agrees that cigarette butt littering is okay. Not every person, of course, but our society as a whole. That's why people know they can do it and 99 times out of 100 they won't get pulled up for it. We need to alter this implicit agreement within society by speaking up when we see this, by talking to one another about the impacts our behaviour has on the planet.
Without fail, there will be many excuses...."But there's no bin around!". Again, we need to change the way people think. How come someone is happy to carry around papers, filters, a lighter and the tobacco itself but not an empty mint container or film canister to hold their cigarette butts? Or even just their cigarettes and a lighter but not a third small item that should be essential for any smoker? How come people want their cigarette so much while they are smoking it, but need to get it out of their hand the second its purpose has been served? Just talking about these things alters our collective consciousness, our associated beliefs and behaviours as a whole. Be the one to alter them, the game changer. Ask questions, point out the truth, the hypocrisy! We are all part of the change that needs to happen.
Speaking of my naughty 16-year-old self, I also used to use plastic bags when I went shopping and attended festivals covered in glitter. I have therefore learned to think of people that do these things not as the problem, but as the opportunity for the solution. We are all waiting to be inspired. Behaving a certain way, experiencing a critical juncture where we are inspired by something new and then altering our behaviour in response is not an uncommon process, there is no reason why it does not apply to us now.
When it comes down to it, most people love marine life. They get tattoos and wear necklaces even if they've never actually seen the species in question. They are an inherent part of our idea of life on earth. I don't think anyone fancies the idea of explaining to their grandchildren why the tattooed animal on their arm doesn’t exist anymore. So, grab your reusable bag when you go out shopping. Get your coffee to have in, not take out. I mean what's the rush? Tell your mate when she showers all that glitter is going to go straight into the ocean. When you're out at a restaurant, request your table to be straw free. If you're loving all this so far, take it to the next level! Get a menstrual cup. Go to the bulk foods store. Make your own beauty products, etc. etc. etc.!
It's fun, and it's a way of life. I know it has completely transformed mine. I was 17 when I started to really get into marine conservation. It started with snorkeling, then scuba diving, then I went sailing with the whales along Hervey Bay with a bunch of marine conservationists. That was a major source of inspiration. Around that time, I also saw a video about a young woman who was waste free on Facebook. I followed suit. Since I couldn't buy prepackaged food anymore, I started making everything from scratch. This transformed my diet. I stopped using pre-made products full of chemicals on my body, and started making my own delicious ones. It's beautiful. It's natural. It feels right and puts a spring in my step knowing I'm living life with my actions aligned my values.
And then I started doing projects! I got out of my pit of self-doubt, got out there and started doing stuff (correction actually, I get out of my pit of self-doubt on a daily basis, then I carry out the change I want to see in the world through action)! I believe that is all that is stopping us. We don't ask that question because we are scared of a no. We don't carry out that project because we are scared it might fail. We don't ask our friends to help clean up the beach with us because they wouldn't want to, they don't care, they are busy. Whatever it is, these kinds of behaviour deny ourselves our full potential and also deny others the opportunity to be a part of a larger, incredible whole.
When my passion for marine conservation started to bloom, I just picked up rubbish on the beach by myself. I didn't think anyone would want to help. Then I started volunteering for Sea Shepherd as it was safer and easier to be a part of an already accomplished organisation. Slowly but surely though, I began to do things independently. I organised an Ocean Awareness Festival. Then after that I organised getting 30 of the local beach and riverside picnic tables in my town painted with artwork about the marine environment and issues it faces to inspire change in people's behaviour (especially concerning littering). Then I started Turtle Approved, a project that assists businesses in going plastic free then certifies them as a Turtle Approved business. And whilst working on that I am working on another project targeting cigarette butt littering by creating massive art structures in public places to create awareness.
These are things that I have thought up and had the courage to bring into the world. I haven't done it alone though. Through these projects, I have presented opportunities to others to change the world too, and they've accepted these opportunities and so that's how it all happened. I have been little more than the instigator. I hope that sharing my thoughts has inspired some. These issues impact all of us! No one wants more plastic in weight than fish in the ocean by 2050. No one wants our most loved species going extinct. No one wants to go for a surf and be accosted by dirty rubbish. This article has mainly focused on plastic pollution and marine conservation, but I'd like to stress the importance of any and every pursuit that aims to make our world a better place. Whether it's planting trees, providing economic aid, or finding homes for abused pets, in my personal opinion, it all benefits the one cause: to have a thriving beautiful and happy planet for every living being.
Find what calls out to you! And be a part of it! Nothing has made me feel more fulfilled and happy than following my passion and helping the world.