New year, greener leaf! Holly Hughes urges us to redouble our climate action efforts with the help of a sensible list …
I am all for New Year Resolutions. I am all for the pursuit of greatness and a hope, earnest and innocent, that transformation is not just possible, but imminent. More than this, I am an ardent disciple of the process of resolutions. In short, I like lists. Both as a mechanism of change and as a reliever of anxiety, disillusionment and lethargy (which, let’s be honest, are all too pervasive in January).
Lists dramatically improve our productivity, focus, and likelihood of achieving our goals. As David Cohen, psychologist and author, explains, lists give us a structure and plan that we can stick to, thereby removing mental obstacles from our path. They quell the anxiety created by life’s chaos. Crucially, they signpost progress by outlining our accomplishments over time. This couldn’t be more essential to our climate work.
As I write, the forecast for our planet’s future has never been bleaker. COP26 demonstrated how we’re not only on track to exceed 1.5 degrees of global heating (which means the eradication of ecosystems, countries and life as we know it) but are actually, unless radical change happens instantly, set to soar over the worst-case limit of two degrees. Moreover, we are continuing to ignore the communities on the frontline of climate change, and our failure to hear and help them will result in the disappearance of their lands and nations.
How to keep our heads in this? How to avoid a state of crippling despair or catatonic helplessness? Can the answer – both to our emotions and our actions – really be as simple as a to-do list? I think so.
As a starting point, take your shopping habits, travel plans, beauty regimes, diets, and plot their green improvement. Could you commit to a climatarian diet? Or pledge to avoid flying this year? Could you resolve to only buying pre-loved clothes? To generally buying less? Pick one area – pick one sub-area of an area! – and begin there.
However, let the empty promises of world leaders be your cautionary tale. A list is only as strong as its detail. There is little point pledging astronomical change – swearing strict veganism when you are a carnivorous milk-glugger, for example – without some form of roadmap (and an understanding of personal limitations). Thus, rather than trying to out-promise your neighbour, begin with small, realistic changes. These will signpost you through the hard parts of progress and give you a vital sense of accomplishment.
Lists hold us accountable. So do other people. Double your efforts and galvanise those around you by creating a shared list of environmental goals.
For example, rather than removing meat from your diet immediately (which, in my experience, just leads to bingeing and general misery) begin with reduction. Decrease your consumption to a few times a week, planning meat days for when your willpower or motivation will be at its lowest (you WILL want the Sunday fry – there’s no point pretending otherwise). Do this for however long it takes to settle into this habit. Then, when it feels comfortable, you can expand your list – limiting meat consumption to once a week, or only when dining out, or perhaps even decreasing your dairy intake. In this, you alleviate panic and permit yourself many small victories with each hurdle’s completion. This is important! Joy and pride are what keep us motivated – take and relish both!
Lists hold us accountable. So do other people. Double your efforts and galvanise those around you by creating a shared list of environmental goals with your family, friends, cohabitants, work colleagues. As a community, set out – clearly and pragmatically – your individual and collective climate pledges. Break down your habits into relevant categories – transport, energy use, diet, lifestyle, waste, etc – and under each heading see where you can make changes (however small they seem!!) to lower your impact.
Have them witnessed and noted by your peers, and then commit to monthly progress updates.
This accomplishes two things. The first is that it will not only make us more likely to deliver on our promises but, through the gloriousness of peer pressure, it will propel us and those around us into more radical measures. The second advantage is that there is enormous comfort and camaraderie to be found in community.
On that subject: I’ve been writing or rather, living, this column for two years now. Together, we’ve monthly mustered our climate anxiety and transmogrified it into power, hacking our way through the bramble of greenwashing, consumerism disguised as activism, and political apathy.
Let’s not stop now. Keep going. And, in our pursuit, let us not forget to pull our politicians along with us. With an email, a letter, a Tweet, a phone call. Pellet them with your power. Your future – our future – depends on it.
Finally, a word of thanks. For joining me in a fight that is often lonely. For holding me accountable in moments of weakness or doubt. You are my list. I am the better for writing this column and I hope, someday, to make your life the better for reading it. Happy New Year.
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