Making a difference – do individual actions really matter?


By Laurie Caswell-Burke

The wild weather continues as summer moves forward bringing us unusual weather extremes including occasional micro-bursts that have damaging impact. Lately, I’ve noticed some of the largest tree limbs completely torn off by high swirling winds. I have my own theory about this that clearly will not have everyone in agreement. This wild weather pattern seems like nature’s only way of telling us to “pay attention.” But, it is summer and most of us are in the relaxed mode – enjoying ourselves, knowing the season is short in Vermont. Any serious matters can wait until summer’s end. When it comes to climate change, many of us don’t think our individual actions really make a difference in the big scheme of things. The truth is they do.

Recently I came across a touching story I heard many years ago and it resonated with me again. “The Starfish Story” by Loren Eiseley may be familiar to you.  While writing his book, “The Unexpected Universe,” Eiseley was walking along an ocean coastline after a big storm. He noticed thousands of starfish that had been washed up on the beach. Ahead of him just at the base of a brilliant rainbow, he noticed a young boy flinging something into the surf.

Eiseley went up to him and asked, “Son, what are you doing?” The little boy answered, “I’m throwing starfish back into the sea because if I don’t they are going to die.”

“But there are thousands of starfish. In the larger scheme of things you’re not going to make much of a difference to all these starfish.” The little boy looked up at him, stooped down again to pick up another starfish and, gently but quickly flung it back into the ocean. “It’s going to make a big difference to that one,” he replied.

This story is meaningful to me and is a reminder that my individual actions do matter. As I reflect back on the past few years, there are many things that have happened in our town which demonstrate progress toward a more sustainable future. Signs of progress can be motivating factors that can inspire continued change. I offer just a few examples that we can be proud of in our community starting with one of our local “gems.”

Shelburne Farms received two key awards this year; Fodor’s Travel Guide listed the Inn at Shelburne Farms as one of their top 100 hotels around the world in the Trendsetters category which includes “hotels that are changing the hospitality landscape.” One of the key areas was the focus on local food served that was produced on the farm or came from other local food producers. Yankee Magazine’s Travel Guide to New England recognized the farm as a 2013 “Editor’s Choice” winner for “Best Hands-On Farm Programs.” Both of these awards recognize Shelburne Farms as a leader in the local food movement.

Colorful multi-sized reusable shopping bags continue to grace the shelves at Shelburne Supermarket as plastic bags have long disappeared.

Bikers, runners, strollers, and dog walkers continue to enjoy our expanded recreational paths which offer alternative means of transportation.

Shelburne Community School received a national award, The Green Ribbon Award, a tremendous honor and sense of pride for students, teachers, and administrators.

There are many more, but these are some good examples of reasons to be proud to live in a town that is focusing efforts toward a greener more sustainable future. As we move closer to fall, think about one action you and your family can accomplish to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Collectively, we can make a difference.






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