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5 Critical Actions That Really Can Put Us on a Sustainable Path

Annie Leonard's new short film, "The Story of Change," shows why we have to do more than just vote with our dollars.

Photo Credit: Screenshot via the Story of Change


Do you buy organic? Purchase fair-trade products? Shop only from businesses whose ethics you support?

That’s great! You are being the change you want to see in the world.

News flash: it’s not enough.

In Annie Leonard’s new short film, The Story of Change (which you can view at the end of this article), she explains that we have to do more than just vote with our dollars. Leonard is the creator of  The Story of Stuff, a popular short film about our consumption and production patterns that has 15 million views. As Leonard continued to make new films and provide her audience with information about environmental problems, she realized something was missing.

“We kept getting letters from viewers who said they agreed with the information, shared our concern but didn’t know how to get started to make change,” she said. “So, this summer we made The Story of Change, to remind people that change comes from people working together as engaged citizens and to inspire them to get involved.”

Leonard says she researched past social movements that brought about change and found that three things are needed: a big idea for how things can be better, commitment to work together, and participation in action. Leonard says we’re missing the last factor.

While progress is being made, overwork and corporate influence has impeded social movement in recent decades. Americans are the most overworked of all people living in industrialized countries. Leonard said, “Sharing our work hours more equitably … can facilitate civic engagement and social movements.” She also added that although people feel powerless against corporate power, we must rise up and “get the corporations out of our democracy and the people back in!”

Leonard said she believes most people ultimately want healthy products, healthy children and a healthy environment, despite the fact that we don’t always make the best choices to achieve these desires. Some people are too busy, misinformed, or don’t know what they really want. She said she hopes people who are ready for change make healthy, sustainable products and a healthy, sustainable way of life the new default.

“Then we won’t have to choose between our values and having things like a phone, because they will be aligned,” she said. “That’s the ultimate solution for stuff, but we can’t get there through better shopping or nagging each other; we get there by engaging as citizens to ensure our policies and laws put safeguarding people and the planet first.”

We can’t shop our way to a better planet; we need to join our communities in demanding real change. In the spirit of her new video, here are five critical environmental actions that need your support:

1. Mountain Mobilization, West Virginia (July 25)

The Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival (RAMPS) is mobilizing people in Southern West Virginia on July 25 in order to prepare participants for the “Take Back a Mountain” nonviolent direct action on July 28. Activists are ready to put their bodies on the line in order to shut down a strip mine in the Appalachian Mountains. Working with other environmental activists, RAMPS, in the past, has stopped nine coal trucks from entering a mine. RAMPS said, “We are calling for as many people as possible to come together and do what the politicians, the regulators and the courts have been unwilling to do; to defend the land and the people; to stop strip mining.”

Strip mining, or mountaintop removal mining, is a process in which coal companies use explosives to blow off the tops of mountains. Rocks and dirt are dumped into the valleys and streams below. People living in communities faced with strip mining are among the unhealthiest people nationwide. Strip mining has been shown to increase rates of mortality, contaminate drinking water and increase flooding. The process also causes damage to homes. In one case, a half-ton boulder crashed into a home in Virginia, crushing a 3-year-old boy.