Dude Making a Difference: Zion Lights interviews Rob Greenfield

If you haven’t come across Rob Greenfield, you’re in for a treat. I first heard of him through my publisher, who wanted me to make a series of videos based on excerpts from my book. Look up Rob Greenfield for some inspiration, they told me, so, somewhat apprehensively, I did.

They weren’t wrong. This man exudes inspiration like the rest of us release carbon dioxide. From ‘Drunk Dude’ to innovative, altruistic eco-activist, Rob Greenfield has dedicated his life to being better and making the world better too. In a nutshell, he inspires people to change their lifestyles to be more eco-friendly, but there is more to him than that. Although his projects may seem extreme – and indeed Rob calls himself an extreme person, but points out that he is no more extreme than the wasteful way in which we are currently living on this planet – he has a down-to-earth answer when I ask what made him wake up to his own environmentally polluting ways:

“All that I did was start watching documentaries and reading books, and I learned that not everything was just fine on Earth like I’d assumed. I realised that my life was causing serious environmental and social destruction both to my immediate and far-off surroundings through simple daily actions like driving my car, eating, and buying stuff at the store. I didn’t want to live a life that caused destruction with all my actions, so I decided to change my life in hundreds of little ways that would add up to a big difference.”

So he set to work, one step at a time. He gave away most of his possessions and undertook a series of projects to raise awareness of issues, including not showering for a year and sleeping on the streets. He also worked on what some might call the inner or spiritual self, by “abolishing my attachment to material possessions. This has allowed me to live simply and in the service of others.” To Rob, the inner and the outer cannot be easily separated. From campaigning to end food waste and hunger, to living off-grid and raising money for charity, I ask him what motivates him, and he tells me, “I’m excited to wake up every day and mould myself into a human that is better for the Earth, my community and myself, and to inspire others to do so as well.”

That’s not to say that he has all the answers – as ever, balance is key. Managing technology, which enables him to connect with all manner of individuals and communities across the globe, also ends up sucking up his time. “The worst thing for me though is the amount of time that I spend on the computer with emails, social media, blogging, videos, etc. It’s not very healthy to spend so much time sitting down and looking at a screen, and it’s something that I need to work on greatly to live life to the fullest.”

Rob has many interesting and fun ideas, including an upcoming activism campaign called Trash Me whereby he plans to live just like the average American for a month. “The catch is that I have to wear every piece of trash that I create, which will be 140 pounds by the end of the month!” We can learn so much through his cheeky but poignant approach to social issues – issues we all face but would rather not. From this, my thoughts stray to climate change. How can anyone stay so positive in the face of what’s to come?

Rob tells me, “Climate change is a very real thing and very daunting. It can be hard to wrap my head around at times and can – reasonably so – be quite depressing. But depression isn’t what I need if I’m to be a part of the great movement to live in a world of environmental and social justice and equality. If I’m going to persuade people to get excited to be a part of the change, I’ve got to lead by example and be excited myself… I haven’t given up in the slightest, because even if we are headed for disaster, in the meantime I believe every life to be precious, whether human or non-human, and everything I can do to contribute to the health and happiness of precious life is worth it to me.”

How can we learn to have such a wonderful, freeing approach to life? Rob advocates tackling one issue at a time, just like he did: “Take the time to make a list of the changes you’d like to make in order to live in a more environmentally friendly way. Then make a goal to check one of those things off your list each week. They could be small things like using reusable grocery bags and shopping locally, or they could be big things like going car-free. Some will be easy to check off the list, and others will take longer, but the more of the easy ones you check off the list, the easier the big ones will become.’

Rob isn’t well known in the UK, but take a look at the videos and stories on his website, and I think you’ll be inspired. Watching his enthusiasm and energy, I feel the need to ask where he gets his energy from. His answer surprises me: “I get my energy from living a transparent life with nothing to hide. From being bill- and debt-free, allowing me to focus on the now. From dedicating myself to something I feel truly purposeful and passionate about rather than working at a job I’m not interested in. From focusing on the basics of life such as food, water, fresh air, nature and sleep, which are a few of the simplest forms of energy for the human body… Most of the work I do is just as an individual guy with no business or non-profit, because I want to show people that we can all make a difference.”

It’s easy to be dubious, to be critical, and to find holes in what Rob Greenfield does. But what we can’t deny is that he throws himself into life with a zest that is incredibly inspiring, and that is certainly making a difference to the world.

Zion Lights is the contributing editor of JUNO and writes at sustainablesciencefamily.blogspot.com.

Find out more about Rob’s work at robgreenfield.tv.

First published in Issue 46 (Winter 2016) of JUNO:

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