Little Things Matter
My spouse brews the coffee in our house as an act of self-defense. The first thing I do every morning is grab a cup of coffee. My brain isn’t fully engaged until after that first cup. Only then is it safe to talk with me. In my house, we jokingly call coffee “the nectar of life.”
I recently was reminded of the extent to which ecological injustices are interwoven with my life when I read an article about the impacts of climate change on coffee. Both the availability and quality of coffee beans are expected to decline in the coming years. The fact that I’m concerned about whether I’ll have coffee in the morning reveals a level of privilege that all too easily ignores the fact that coffee production was problematic long before climate change. Most retail coffee comes to me at great ecological cost and perpetuates a unjust system built on colonialism and racism. This system of coffee production leaves both coffee growing communities and their ecosystems more susceptible to climate change, and leaves my spouse at risk of me without coffee in the morning.
Coffee is just one example of the many ways ecological injustices are interwoven into my daily life. Similar stories can be told for much of what I buy and consume each day. The amount of harm already done to people and ecosystems seems overwhelming. It’s easy for me to feel trapped by the current systems and to believe my efforts are too small to matter.
The truth is little things matter. The injustices and ecological crises of our day are the sum of all our small, daily actions. This is the great paradox of eco-justice issues: my actions can’t solve any of the problems, AND the issues can’t be solved without my actions. Companies and organizations know the methods needed for more sustainable and just coffee production. However, as described in Living Bird magazine and by Heifer International, I must do my part for the methods to work. In other words, I must change how and where I buy coffee and how much I pay for it, and possibly drink less of it.
Another truth is that I can change only myself. This seems counter to the voices telling us we must demand governments and corporations change. In another paradox, others change when I change myself. The little changes in my life are amplified when family and friends see them and are moved to make changes in their lives. As I struggle to make changes in my life, I discover and understand the complexities of the issues and the systemic barriers to large-scale change. I become an effective advocate for governmental and corporate change. I speak with authenticity when I'm not asking others to do something I’m unwilling to do myself.
Maybe most importantly, small changes prepare me for the large ones to come. Even with the inequities in the US, we as a society have been living beyond our ecological means. Paying this debt will require systemic change, which means government policies, corporate practices, and our daily lives will have to change to a new standard of living that provides for quality of life, without sacrificing the well-being of communities and ecosystems. If we don’t proactively change, then the planet’s ecosystems and climate will force us to make sudden and drastic changes, much like the pandemic has recently done.
Does changing where I buy my coffee fix a broken system? No, but it changes me, and that’s where justice and sustainability begin. I invite you to join me in making small, daily changes. These little things matter, and they will lead to so much more for all of us.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” Luke 16:10