Responsibility and motivation to move mountains and clean oceans

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Each year, millions of tonnes of trash are dumped into the ocean, along with other pollutants, including chemicals from agriculture and fuel. The environmental damage done by humans greatly jeopardizes the future of life on Earth. Featured Conversationists in the panel Moving Mountains, Cleaning Oceans taking place on 20 November 2019 at the Reykjavik Global Forum – Women Leaders 2019, highlight responsibility and motivation as key elements on which to base any viable solution.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius (2015-2018), Member of CWWL, Veronica Delgadillo, Senator, Mexico WPL Ambassador, Mexico, Sonja Schenkel, Founder Paititi Lab, and Lana Popovic, President for Central & Eastern Europe, The Coca-Cola Company, looked at how each person can do its part to repair the damage done to ocean ecosystems by microplastics. Donna Leinwand Leger, Digital Media Leader & Former Managing Editor of USA Today moderated the session. 

“For too long we have taken dilution as being the solution for pollution,” says Gurib-Fakim and this has proven to be completely wrong. While some environmental damage is visible, such as turtles getting wrapped up in plastic, the dangers of microplastics are bigger yet unseen. However, the consequences are apparent in the course of everyday life; plastic is found in the food people are eating and has been linked to many health problems as well as fertility issues. Even biodegradable plastic is not the ultimate solution, it is indeed biodegradable but only on specific circumstances.

Who is responsible? 

Since humans are responsible for environmental damage – especially the amount of microplastics in the ocean and their consequences on marine life – they should also be responsible for the solution, say Conversationists.

Delgadillo says: “We humans have been poisoning our own air and water and increasing the threat of our own mass extinction, but this is no longer acceptable. Action is needed before it’s too late.”  If we want a future for all, we shall start addressing environmental issues. Our health, the environment, as well as the future economic survival depend on it. The responsibility is not only of big companies; everybody should play its role.

Popovic echoes this sentiment by stating that “Individuals must figure out what they are responsible for, as well as companies.” In this instance, Coca-Cola is not denying its responsibility for the packaging used and the pollution it creates. But Coca-Cola is not a packaging company, it needs to support of other actors in the food chain. Companies must also consider how their actions set an example for business partners to set industry standards, and find sustainable solutions. Competition makes no sense in this context because everybody should work together towards the solution. The corporate world can also inspire consumers to be more environmentally responsible, this can be done through marketing.

But when it comes to accepting responsibility and taking action, individuals and companies need motivation.

Schenkel says that fear and hope are part of the same spectrum. On the one side, fear has been blocking humans to act and find solutions and solve the problem of ocean pollution. On the other side, hope is the key to motivation. As long as people believe things can change, so as long as they have hope, there is motivation to act. Although people know what they should be doing to solve the problem, progress is very slow. The response can be found in feelings that allow overcoming the fear that keeps us from making the best choices possible. Hope is the only option because is the key to motivation. She also commends Coke for taking such a strong stance on pollution even if it is currently one of the biggest contributors. “Coke is in the best position possible to make a change,” Schenkel says.

Individuals, lawmakers, and governments can all be a part of the process so long as there is a shared commitment to act.