Ian Thornhill

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Look after the pennies and nature will do the rest

I was watching a TED talk last night, one of ten excellent talks in a series called Ocean Wonders, to which I was exposed through the magic of Twitter. The talk was by Mike deGruy, an underwater cameraman, and entitled Hooked by an octopus. Mike recalled being enthralled by an octopus he picked up as a child, at the manner in which it manifested it’s tentacles and shifted, shaped and recoloured its body, before he placed it back down and within a moment it was vanished, camouflaged, and there was the hook. Each one of the talks in this series have been fascinating. They have been as good as any David Attenborough production (which I don’t say lightly) and always with a poignant and heart-felt message.

The message in Mike’s talk was founded upon two experiences he had whilst filming corals. The first example is a return to film at a once ‘gorgeous’ location. Here, since his previous visit some five years prior, the bay had turned into ‘pea soup’, and the coral dead due to excessive nutrient, pesticide and fine sediment input deposited from a golf course and a contruction site. By contrast, the second example is taken from a once ‘pretty trashed bay’. Here the construction site and golf course are managed responsibly to control and reduce the impact upon the bay, to the point whereby the bay is now ‘gorgeous’ again. This was not achieved by some major public outcry, or through any hard-hitting national legislature, but by the action of the local community, which enacted this change and gave nature a chance to repair. The story is beautifully summed up by the use of a quote from Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978), an American cultural anthropologist, that:

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I, like Mike, have all too often encountered people who are of the attitude that they cannot make a difference, being only one. “I don’t think what I do matters…” or “but what difference will it make if I…” or “I don’t think it’ll matter if I…” Typically this has been over recycling, and normally it has been housemates; be they relations or not. Though I hope I have, I doubt I have ever really changed anyone’s mind; and I try not to be the preachy sort. My normal sentiment was to try and get the person to consider themselves a representation of a much larger group of people. “If you recycle your drinks bottle, you can bet there are thousands more just like you, doing exactly the same thing”, I would say. Add up all the people making this one small change and you get a big change.
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I don’t think my case has been particularly persuasive, mostly because I think I’ve confused the point. However, I am absolutely certain that everyone knows the value of what I, and many others like me are trying to communicate. We ALL very well know the old addage ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ or ‘look after the cents and the dollar will look after itself’. Frankly, to suggest that one person cannot make a difference is lazy and at best it is entirely unimaginative. For example, it’s just easier to go with the majority and throw the Coke can into the general waste rather than make the effort to find an appropriate recycling bin. Here, one is safe in the knowledge that you are amongst many thousands being just as blazé. Perhaps a clearer sentiment is that:
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In this world we are the pennies and it is the dollar. We will do good by it if we all just contribute a little, and altogether we can be richer.
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