Rob ​Greenfield: Be the Change in the Messed up World at TEDxIHEParis (Transcript)


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Here is the full transcript of Rob ​Greenfield’s TEDx Talk: Be the Change in the Messed up World at TEDxIHEParis conference. This event took place on May 20, 2017 in Paris.

Rob ​Greenfield – Adventurer, environmental activist, humanitarian

Nice to be here with you and thanks for coming out. Some of you may know me as the guy who’s dived into thousands of grocery store dumpsters to raise awareness about how much food is going to waste.

You might also know me as the guy who landed in a far-off country, with no money, with just the clothes on my back and my passport, on a mission to make it home on the kindness of others and show the world that people are good.

Or you might know me as the “trash man” from a project where I spent an entire month living like the average American but wearing every piece of trash that I created to make a visual of how much garbage just one person creates in a month.

You might also know me as the guy who has just 111 possessions to his name or the guy who lived in a 50 sq ft tiny house in San Diego. I do a lot of extreme adventures and activism campaigns to catch the mainstream media’s attention, catch people’s attention and get them to stop and think about important social and environmental issues. But what most of you probably don’t know is that I haven’t always been this way.

I haven’t always had a desire to have a positive impact on the world or be the change that I wanted to see in the world. Let’s rewind about ten years.

This is me during college. For those of you who don’t know what this is, this is a duck bong. It’s like a beer bong, except it is an ornamental plastic lawn duck, and you cut the foot off, you cut a hole in the beak, and you can fit about five beers in there.

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This was my passion during college. I was – I was partying, chasing women, very much into material possessions and money. I had a part-time job during college, and that was, basically, talking to every girl that I saw. When I wasn’t successful, I found things like unlucky Christmas trees to be my mate for the night.  So my Sunday routine was that I would spend two hours shining my car, making sure that it looked as good as possible, and my goal was to be a millionaire by the time that I was 30 years old.

These were my focuses in life. But the thing was, at this time, I actually thought that I was sort of living an environment-friendly life, and the reason why is I was the one who was recycling the beer cans and the beer bottles after all our parties. I was the one who when Ricky had his faucet running while he was brushing his teeth, I was the one telling him: “Shut that faucet off, Ricky!” And I was the one who put in the energy-efficient bulbs at the house, so I thought that I was doing pretty good.

But then something happened after I graduated, and I realized that I had to totally transform my life. This is the part of the story where I’m supposed to tell you about some sort of near-death experience, some sort of moment of enlightenment; you know, an aha moment! But, actually, there was nothing like that, not for me.

I simply started to watch a lot of documentaries and read a lot of books, and started to realize that all of my little daily actions were causing destruction to the world around me. To everything that I loved: to people, to animals, to the earth, to the environment as a whole.

At this point, I could have felt that deep feeling in the stomach, the total doom and gloom, the total helplessness and hopelessness: “What can I possibly do? I’m just one guy.” But instead, I felt empowered because now I knew I’m a part of the problem, but now these documentaries and these books told me the solutions. I knew that I could change my life and be a part of the solution.

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I started small, simple things, like carrying a reusable shopping bag to the grocery store instead of the disposable plastic ones. I started to ride a bicycle more and drive the car less. I started to shop at local businesses, the local farmers market rather than the big-box chain stores.

I changed the food I was putting into my body, no more of that packaged processed junk; instead, whole foods more plant-based foods, food that was actually good for me. And the thing was, as I made these changes, I thought that I was trying to live a more environmentally-friendly life, which I was, but what I found was, every time that I did something that was good for the earth, it was also good for me.

With these changes, I was becoming much happier and much healthier, and that made it easier to make more changes. What I did was I made a long list of all the changes that I wanted to make, and I hung it up right on my fridge, with the goal of just making one positive change per week. Just checking off one positive thing at a time.

And I learned something really important: Great change doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with one small change, and then another change, and then another change, and another.

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