There’s this term in activist circles: slacktivist. It’s the concept that some people feel like they’re making a difference by clicking a link, adding their voice to a petition or sharing content on social media. And look, sometimes, doing those things absolutely has an impact on a campaign.
But the reality is, if we want to make serious change when it comes to the planet, and all things sustainability, it usually means we need to step out of our comfort zone – in both a literal and metaphorical sense.
A colleague once said “changing a lightbulb is good, but changing policy is better,’ and they’re right. Because while we’re all being encouraged to make changes at a personal level, sometimes the policy environment is single-handedly outstripping those efforts – negating them entirely. On the one hand we have governments banning single use shopping bags, while on the other being vague about whether they’ll fund the biggest coal mine in Australia. Mind-boggling.
But affecting change at that level takes time and temerity. You can affect change in other ways right now.
Put your money where your mouth is
Fed up with your local café not offering proper plates or glasses when you order food or a fresh juice? Sick of the plastic-wrapped produce at the major grocery chains? Here’s an idea. STOP SHOPPING THERE. Companies take notice when you vote with your feet and you’re 100% in control of where you spend your money. Let’s be honest, if you’re serious about living sustainably, you absolutely have to change your behaviour, and quickly. There are plenty of brands, retail outlets, coffee shops and businesses who are genuinely doing the right thing when it comes to sustainability and some of them don’t even publicise the fact. Keep your ear to the ground and throw your money at the businesses doing the right thing. The planet will thank you for it.
And I’m not talking about petitions. I’m talking about showing up. There are small and large activist groups everywhere and what they need most (apart from money) is people. They need people to show up to meetings, to show up to actions and to show up when it comes time to vote. If you think it’s someone else’s job to change politics, to influence opinion or to facilitate change, then you’re part of the problem. If you’re serious about sustainability, you simply have to add your voice. Need ideas for how to do that? Here’s a list of Gold Coast groups flying the activist flag.
Turn it off
Think you care about the planet but use an air conditioner or clothes dryer? Yeah, hate to break it to you, but you’re fooling yourself. The only way you can use either of those things sustainably is if you’re on solar power and even then you’re consuming resources made from fossil fuels (we need steel to make solar panels. Steel comes from coal. You get the picture).
Heating and cooling are by far the biggest users of energy – both inside and outside the home. And you might not like to hear it, but living in a controlled climate actually has plenty of negative consequences – and not just in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. According to Dr Stan Cox who wrote ‘Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World’, thermal discomfort could actually be good for you, that’s because people eat more and gain more weight when the temp is cozy. “When we’re a little cold or a little warm, our metabolism runs faster,” he says.
There are exceptions when it comes to air conditioning. Some people need it for medical reasons and in countries where air pollution is a major issue, it may be justified. Chances are, neither of these things apply to you, so suck it up, buttercup. Get a fan, put on a jumper, embrace the discomfort and know that you’re avoiding an enormous expense to the natural environment in doing so.
Embrace active and public transport
There’s lots of reasons people choose to not use public transport. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the most common reasons are services being available at a convenient time and a preference for the convenience, comfort and privacy of travelling in a private vehicle. Come on. Are you serious? You honestly prefer your own personal space to finding a long-term solution to the use of precious fossil fuels to get to your destination? Of course there are people who need their own vehicle when they get to their job (or perhaps to transport children to childcare or school). But not many. Again, it’s an inconvenient reality, but catching public transport or using your own steam to get to your destination is an important action to help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and encourage governments to create better transport infrastructure (that’s not just roads).
Check your waste
An interesting conversation has been playing out in the media at news that we’re phasing out single-use plastic bags. People are losing their minds about how they’ll contain the rubbish in their homes. That’s because they use their plastic grocery bags as bin-liners. But here’s the thing. If you remove organic waste (ie. compost) from those bins. And then you remove everything else that can be recycled, you’re basically left with a pile of plastic.
You’re using a plastic bag to hold more plastic so that it can all be shipped off to landfill. And plastic bags are made from oil, another fossil fuel, that’s being extracted from special places to fuel our obsession with plastic.
Reducing plastic when it comes to household waste is pretty easy. You just don’t buy the stuff that’s packaged that way. And yes, that means changing your habits, your diet, your shopping destinations – but that’s what this is all about. Having a positive impact on the environment means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing what’s right. Not doing what’s popular, but what’s actually right. So, ditch the plastic bags altogether. And then ditch the plastic packaging. Compost your food scraps (try Composta or Bokashi if you’re in an apartment), recycle everything else and you’re left with nothing but a righteous feeling of significantly reducing your personal contribution to global warming.
Happy World Environment day, peeps.