A Practical Guide To Change The World

Or why you should write reviews and comments on Youtube.

The White Orange 🍊⚪
12 min readJan 20, 2024

About four years ago when I was living in the French city of Toulouse I had to go through the street below everyday on my way to work:

The nasty reality of hundreds of people choosing to drive to work. Route de Narbonne, Toulouse.

Unwillingly, I had to inhale the smog and suffer through the noise caused by hundreds of individuals choosing to commute by car — all despite cycling to work. Not only I was frustrated, but also astonished at how we’ve become desensitized to piles of cars ruining our cities, how this sort of loud and polluting traffic is regarded as the norm.

After weeks of suffering, I decided I could not sit idle and “accept” this. I had to do something to stop this madness, to “awake” people and make them see the problem as I was seeing it — as an unacceptable sickening behaviour, degrading everyone’s quality of life.

Ever since then, I became obsessed with the idea of changing the world. But with wars, climate change and pandemics constantly shaking the world, it’s easier than ever to feel paralysed and powerless. We are left with the impression that the individual can do nothing about these global catastrophes.

Indeed, our vocabulary often reflects this paralysing powerlessness: “Wealthy corporations ARE responsible for climate change for recklessly extracting fossil fuels”. The blame is on big oil corporations, and because they are responsible, there’s nothing we can do about it. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Consider refraining the problem as “We are responsible for climate change for recklessly driving our car everyfuckingwhere”. Suddenly, we are in control. The blame is now on us, it’s the ugly truth, we may not like it, but we are now ready to take action. Wealthy corporations are not the problem any longer; they are merely the result of supplying global individual needs. In other words, it’s the aggregate of multiple individual decisions which create global challenges: the individual becomes global.

Change starts with the realization that the world can be changed, and if you are looking to make an impact, here are some ideas to get you started.

Voting

The most obvious form in which we can impact the world is through democratic elections. Despite only 50% of the world enjoying this luxury, westerners often take democracy for granted, resulting in many people neglecting their right to vote. If you ever feel voting is meaningless, think of UK’s Brexit and every individual wishing to remain in the EU that thought “it won’t matter”, when forgoing to vote into the 2016 Brexit election. Next time, your vote may avoid disaster[1,2].

Democracy grants us the freedom to choose, to voice our opinion, to change our government when we don’t like it. That’s a luxury many societies lack, hence why voting should be regarded as a privilege, a duty and a right.

When voting, it’s important not to get carried away by propaganda, mainstream or social media, or your relatives’ opinions. Far too many people vote unquestionably the same party throughout their lifetime. Keep emotions away. Read each parties proposition regardless of your prejudices. Keep an open mind and make an informed decision. Vote the party whose proposition (on paper) aligns with your values and be ready to change.

Voting is the easiest and most accessible way to exert your influence on the world, but I’d argue no the most powerful.

Dollar voting

Capitalism is often blamed for global issues such as climate change and the destruction of the ecosystems, and that’s true [1,2,3,4]. The flip side of capitalism is that, we, the customers, are the ultimate source of decision power. It’s our spending choices that determine which companies thrive, go under, which products remain in the market or which means of production are phased out. We can leverage the market forces to our favour by allocating our money wisely. This is in a nutshell what dollar voting or consumerism sovereignty is about.

Think of buying bread from your local bakery every morning as a way of cherishing that business, as I way of saying: “I love you, here’s my support, please keep existing”. Money is to the world what water is to plants, and in capitalism you carry the watering can. Buy from your local store and independent businesses will flourish in your area. Travel by train and more infrastructure will sprout. Order from Amazon and propagate its expansion. Your purchase decisions shape the world.

Dollar voting according to AI.

Similarly, what doesn’t get watered eventually withers. Lack of consumer interest will cause a given product to be discontinued. And while this can happen organically, boycotts are an effective way to enforce change, to send a message or instigate action. They are an attempt to deprive a given sector or company of water for its beliefs, motives or values.

You can avoid fossil-fuel burning planes in favour of more eco-friendly alternatives, plastic-wrapped vegetables and fruits to force the market to remove unnecessary wrapping, products made in a certain country, or a company known for his exploitation practices. Avoid whatever is in conflict with your values.

When dollar voting, it’s important to consider hidden monetary transactions too. Football fanatics outraged by Lionel’s Messi latest multi-million contract come to mind: they haven’t figured feeding Messi’s pockets it’s their attention. So be wary of what you support indirectly. If not happy about Messi’s salary, perhaps consider ditching watching football? If you drive to work daily, don’t complain about traffic. And of course, be wary of instances where you are the product, such as on Facebook and Youtube; by giving away your attention, you are implicitly contributing to their success.

If you don’t want to support capitalistic consumption to start with, then limit your contribution: embrace minimalism, use public transport and the array of open source alternatives such as Linux, Mozilla Firefox, Mastodon or Signal. Cut ties with the automotive industry (car, insurance, filling up the tank, repairs) by walking or cycling. Bypass financial institutions by paying cash. Support businesses with less capitalistic motives such as Bandcamp, Patagonia or Lush. max out donations to one of the 40,000 NGOs supporting wide range of causes such as environmental preservation, human rights promotion, eradication of diseases and so on. And don’t forget not-for-profit organizations. Do you use Wikipedia and feel align with its values? Why not donate and support it? Wanna prevent Pandas from disappearing? Donate to WWF. These causes rely on our donations for survival, without them, they wouldn’t exist. Pick your cause and support it.

Because your voting power is tied to your wealth, a major critique of dollar voting is that it’s skewed towards the wealthy. While below we’ll see other forms of voting in which other metrics dictate your voting power (such as your follower count), if you don’t have money to start with, consider schemes such as earning to give, whereby you follow a high-earning career (or invest) for the sole purpose of having access to more capital to donate.

Arguably, there’s only so much an individual can achieve. In order for your influence to be most effective, you must persuade others.

Extend your influence

With the Internet, it’s never been easier to broadcast your message to a large audience and influence public opinion. Social media is the obvious place to start. While market influence is measured in “dollars”, influence on the Internet is measured in followers. Use these platforms to raise awareness of a problem, inform the public or call for action.

Consider the video below posted by Youtube’s channel What I’ve learned amassing 2.24 M followers — where he seemingly shows eating meat is not that big of deal for the environment. Some comments read “eye opening” “brilliant” and “thank you for making me more aware”. Regardless of whether his assertions are true, judging by the number of likes, about 350,000 people are now convinced or have been reassured that continuing their meat consumption is just fine. What I’ve Learned is a prime example of a person that can use his high follower count to influence the masses, choose which topics are discussed and steer public opinion.

What I’ve learned has the power to influence the masses, choose which topics are discussed and steer public opinion.

Another way of influencing the world through the Internet and probably one of my favourites is online reviews. If money allows you to “vote”, reviews allow to you to voice the reason why. Unlike dollar voting, reviews are based on democratic principles —every review is worth the same regardless of wealth, background or studies. But that doesn’t mean they cannot be equally or even more impactful than dollar voting.

First off, a review is like a public badge a business or a product will carry for its lifetime, or at least for as long as it takes for that review to be buried under new ones. Despite I tend to leave reviews only when I feel very strongly about a particular business, my dozens of Google reviews have been read by more than 6,000 people. Both the long-lasting and public nature of reviews allow you to dramatically increase your influence on the world.

Secondly, don’t forget reviews are read by both customers AND owners. Aim reviews at new customers by praising a business/product for a lovely experience — a way of doubling down on your “I love you, please keep existing” — or when you feel compelled to tank a business after a terrible experience because of its net negative impact on the world. Aim reviews at owners to influence business and products to your liking. One time I was at a cafe in Cardiff where all drinks were being served on plastic cups. Easy two-star review: “I found appalling that absolutely every coffee/smoothie was being serve on plastic/paper cups, even for eat in. What a wasteful place!”. I bet the business took note.

Thus use reviews to support business/products or to shape them to your liking by sending a message to the owner. But do not limit yourself to businesses, you can also review public spaces, such as the Piccadilly Gardens of Manchester: “They should be ashamed to call them ‘Gardens’, a sad patch of short grass and four sad trees choked in asphalt. This city desperately needs more greenery…” or the neglected park in my neighbourhood in Southampton, where I aimed at increasing awareness of the site while calling the city Council for action: “Lovely hidden patch of greenery, feels like a tiny forest in the middle of the city. It’s just a shame people don’t seem to appreciate it as it is constantly flooded with plastic. The city council should really do more to preserve this precious wild corridor”. Writing a review is akin to voicing your opinion: if you don’t write one, you don’t get to vote!

Reviews are just one of the many influencing tools the Internet affords us. On the Internet, you’re constantly “voting” which communication channels and information spread through likes and subscriptions. Think of shares, comments, likes, claps on medium, subscriptions, as other flavours of dollar voting — ways in which you can extend your influence on the world. Use comments on public forums to influence public opinion, rebut claims, debunk theories, provide additional or correcting information, or talk people out of misconceptions.

When trying to influence people, be careful with confrontation. This is often the least effective way to persuade someone. This is due to a psychological bias cognitive dissonance, one of the many biases affecting human judgement.

More effective than confronting, particularly when someone makes bold unfounded claims on social media, is to show interest and ask how they got to know what they know. This makes them rethink the foundations of their beliefs. You can also show curiosity and ask whether they can point to any source and then explain why that source is wrong. It’s easier to swallow why that source is wrong (for instance I’ve seen online users believe sea levels haven’t risen based on two pictures of the Statue of Liberty taken more than 100 years apart) than to swallow why THEY are wrong. It’ll be hard to convince the other person, but you may convince the lurkers :).

But the most effective way to influence behaviour is not by talking people out of a bad habit or belief, but to lead by example.

Lead by example

My former housemate taught me a powerful lesson. He was the kind of guy who would routinely spend his after-work evenings on the couch, binge-watching Netflix while eating his Uber-delivered Domino’s pizza (I’m told this is the American dream). He was a social smoker and an avid drinker, getting completely smashed almost on a weekly basis. By the end of our 3 years living together, he had undergone a complete lifestyle change: he had given up smoking, reduced his drinking significantly and had swapped junk food takeaways for home-made nutritious meals. He has repeatedly thanked me for ‘transforming his life’. What did I do? Absolutely nothing.

We tend to think we can talk people out of their bad habits. But that’s not how people work. If you want your dad to start exercising, the best you can do is exercise on a routine basis somewhere where he can see you. I bet after a week or two he’ll be at least going for a walk. If you want your kids to read, just read in front of them and casually discuss what interesting things you’ve been reading lately. That’s why Joe Biden publicly getting the COVID vaccine sent a much more powerful message than any drilling of the public to get the vaccine. With my former flatmate, it was enough for him to see me eating healthy, exercising, staying lean and outright rejecting his dirty ‘french tacos’.

Exposure is a more powerful way to influence people’s behaviour. Don’t tell people what to do. Take action where they can see you, lead by example.

Take action

Finally take action, get involved, be the change you wanna see in the world, awake the activist inside you! Go demonstrate, join a community of like-minded people or a movement. Or better… create one**!

Don’t expect things to change. Often times things haven’t changed simply because no one has ever bothered to go and change them. I had passed by this fly-tipping patch of grass in my neighbourhood in the UK countless times, seeing all sorts of trash being dumped: mattresses, tires, furniture, baby strollers… you name it. From the neighbourhood association, we asked the city council whether we could repurpose the land. The rest is history: once a fly-tipping hotspot turned into a community garden.

A fly-tipping area in my local neighbourhood in the UK. Before and after.

When looking to make an impact, it’s important to remember the ecological adage: ‘act local, think global’. Not every action needs to aim high, often the most impactful way we can reshape the world is by changing what’s within our reach, because that’s precisely what we can directly change.

Final Thoughts

We tend to think world changes occur from top to bottom. We leave in government hands to tax meat or car-driving in order to reduce our impact on the environment. But this argument is flawed. Changes in society occur from the bottom-up. A new idea emerges, people spread it, fight for it, and when enough pressure builds, measures are passed. Women secured their right to vote when people started to fight for it. Gay marriages were legalized once society normalized them. Politicians — particularly in democratic countries —are reactors to the general opinion, rarely actors.

Likewise, we signal big corporations as responsible for global challenges such as climate change, but big corporations became big corporations to supply our needs. Shell will keep producing oil as long as there’s demand for it. Arguing our future is in hands of politicians or big corporations ties our hands and legitimises our inaction.

So start small, be conscious about your monetary choices, raise awareness of a problem on social media, join your local community, or stop supporting certain businesses, every little action counts. And if you don’t know where to start, or don’t want to help, always remember the medical precept ‘primum non nocere’— first do no harm.

Thank you for reading! Remember to leave your “vote” if this post was of interest to you! For more thought-provoking articles, simply scroll down. But if you’d like to see them regularly, hit the follow button :)

**If you are curious as to whether I did something against the disgusting traffic of Toulouse, I decided to raise awareness by sharing the video above with a rant about traffic and the accompanying hashtag — #fthetraffic — , whereby I called people to join in by filming the nasty traffic of their cities. Asking people to film traffic was a way for people to internalize it and become conscious of its harms, while holding drivers accountable. Obviously no one jumped in, and the ‘f the traffic movement’ failed miserably, but the post was shared widely and seen by more than 1,000 people, despite my low follower count. While my tiny action didn’t budge the needle, I’m hopeful that, at the very least, it got some people to reflect on the way we view and think about traffic.

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