I Know That Climate Change Is Real -- And I'm Not Doing Anything To Stop It
Most of us understand that man-made climate change is real on an intellectual level -- but why are we so bad at implementing this belief in our day-to-day?
I have attempted -- and failed -- to adhere to veganism approximately 10 times in the past year.
I insist on driving my Toyota Yaris three minutes around the block to our local grocery store because I am concerned about the inevitably sweaty and overburdened 10-minute walk home.
I forget my KeepCup at least every third day and walk away with a sturdy disc of plastic atop my morning latte, which I am fully aware will exist approximately until the sun swells and swallows the Earth.
Simply put, I am a terrible environmentalist.
This seems strange and difficult to reconcile given my career as a science journalist who spends the majority of her working week getting fired up about governmental inaction on climate change.
The disparity between what I believe -- what I know -- to be true about our planet's fate as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in our atmosphere and the changes that I have actually implemented in my day-to-day life to address this problem is stark.
I know I'm not alone here. According to a 2018 WWF survey, 22 percent of Australians believe that a vegetarian diet is good for the environment -- and fewer than half of us are able to stick to it.
Overwhelmingly, I note the same reticence to make pro-environmental changes amongst others in my demographic: scientifically informed, middle-class millennials raised so religiously on a mantra of consumerism that we seem incapable of putting it aside in the face of global ecological collapse.
If it sounds like hypocrisy, that's because it probably is.
There are, however, a number of more profound processes underlying this apparent apathy that need to be unpacked if we're ever going to see environmentalist changes on a wider, societal scale.
A consistent and baffling theme of human cognition is the fact that, despite our remarkable intelligence, people simply do not act rationally.
Models of environmental behaviour traditionally assume that creating environmental awareness and concern leads to pro-environmental behaviour and, unfortunately, this is simply not the case.
If acting on climate change was a matter of education alone, we would likely be cheerful citizens of one of those Jetsons-type civilisations right now, breathing clean air and not at all staring down the barrel of our own muggy apocalypse.
Instead, there are a number of factors that contribute to tangible changes in behaviour and one of the most important of these is 'locus of control', which is one of those annoying, self-satisfied scientific phrases that basically refers to our perceived allocation of power.
People with a strong internal locus of control believe that they can enact change in a meaningful way. People with external locus of control believe that their personal actions are ultimately insignificant.
Reflecting on why I continue to act the way that I do (that is, like a hyper-consuming bull in a carbon China store), I think that resignation about our inevitable decline is what prevents me most from taking action in my own life.
I feel powerless.
Our media cycle is consumed with narratives of the big guy not listening, of the big guy being apathetic, of the big guy winning another three-year elected term of doing essentially nothing productive for the future of this planet.
My narrative of climate change has become consumed by systemic, governmental issues -- an external locus of control -- and this, in turn, has shunted aside any sense of individual responsibility.
There are two very good reasons that I can perceive for all of us to shoulder the responsibility of climate change.
The first is faith.
Climate change is a crisis that profoundly alters our aspirations and dreams. It leaves us muddying about in existential waters that contradict everything we understand about ourselves as humans because we can't rely on the same future our parents had.
Faith in the idea that we can alter our communal future is paramount and we can only glean it from taking action, however small.
Marginally reducing your meat consumption, bringing that goddamn KeepCup to work, recycling, refusing to participate as much in fast fashion -- these are all acts of faith.
Any amount of self-empowerment through these behaviours is an act of self-care in post-IPCC report, post-UN extinction report 2019.
Secondly, we are all part of the process when it comes to altering societal norms.
It's a cynical position to believe that collective action can't have far-reaching political implications. It's also wrong.
Individual action snowballs by changing perceptions, by increasing pressure on companies to comply with our environmentalist demands, by creating a voter base that must be pandered to through green policy.
We have our votes and we have lots and lots of money (I'm speaking as a community obviously -- I have almost none of it).
Altering our own attitudes shapes expectation and, honestly, we just have to believe this is true because we have approximately 12 years to turn this car around and right now there are maniacs at the wheel.