I first heard about climate change back in 2007, when I attended the CSIRO Scientists in Schools Symposium on Energy and Climate Change. I was flabbergasted by the staggering evidence and backing presented to attendees that the climate was changing, that we as a species had driven it, but mostly I was amazed that I had never, ever heard of it before. I had a Science degree, I paid attention to the news, I’d studied Biology in high school – how had I never heard of global warming before?
I was motivated and inspired and following the two day symposium I made a few changes in my lifestyle and activities to try to do what I could to mitigate climate change:
- I recycled, and chose products where packaging was recyclable;
- I reduced my consumption by buying less clothes, products and throwaway items (the positive consequence of this was a saving in funds too!);
- I bought products that were reusable, such as a keep-cup and a metal water bottle;
- I donated unwanted items rather than throwing them in the bin;
- I walked more and tried to drive less;
- I turned off electrical devices overnight (this used to drive my housemates nuts);
- I chose the renewable power option from our electricity provider (this also annoyed my housemates, so I paid the extra cost myself);
- I talked about the issue with my family, friends, colleagues and students; and
- I developed sustainability and environmental science units to teach at my school.
Climate change was also almost certainly why I became interested in the topic of my PhD thesis.
But worrying about big issues wears us down, and over the years I stopped asking others to do these things, too. Some habits remained. But nobody else seemed to be doing anything, and the fight is tiring. Politicians were still arguing about whether or not it was actually occurring, and the businesses who profit from the status quo, well, maintained the status quo. The few deniers out there with a lot of money made a big fuss – they’re still making a fuss – and exerted influence where they could, their voices louder than the environmentalists’. Nothing major changed. Meanwhile, the problem got bigger, the projected consequences are greater – devastating weather and climate events, ocean acidification and the loss of our reefs, sea level rise, mass extinctions, loss of biodiversity, less clean water and food available for all species, climate refugees – and the time frame in which the problem must be addressed shortens. And I lost hope.
In politicising the problem, we’ve also shifted it to the responsibility of our representatives. We’ve disempowered individuals from doing anything other than voting. And lately, it seems that even voting isn’t worthwhile. In general, people find change confronting and threatening, and it’s easier to accept the soothing promises of powerful corporations, individuals and political parties that this isn’t really happening and we can just keep going as we are. And now in our parliament, those actions that have been enacted to reduce the carbon dioxide output of major polluters of greenhouse gases are being repealed by those whose motivation is questionable.
However, in my own work, teaching undergraduate students at university, I have the privilege of talking to young Australians and international students about science, often. And climate change does come up in conversation. Overwhelmingly, students accept the position that climate change is anthropogenic, mostly on the basis of scientific authority. However, when asked what they do about it for themselves, the response is often a shrug or smile accompanied by the statement “not much”. Many of my students don’t seem to see themselves as agents of change; that responsibility is left to those in powerful positions. But teachers are agents of change, and education ultimately brings about progress. So I have a responsibility, to enact changes myself, to model changes for others, to help others adapt to changes and to empower those around me – family, friends, colleagues and students – to do what they can as individuals.
So I’ve decided to bring about some changes in my life, again. Some of the habits I have are good – for example, taking public transport every day and using containers for my lunch rather than throw-away packaging – and others not-so-good. And along the way, I’ll write some posts about these changes, in the hopes that those around me might choose to make some changes too.
What changes do you believe that we as individuals can make to help mitigate and adapt to climate change?
What would be a helpful resource for you and your family, friends, colleagues or students for bringing about changes?