I don’t recall a day that has depressed me more than the 8th Nov 2016. The feeling of heaviness that hung over me with the realization that Trump had been elected was stifling. That the world had come to this! At a time when we faced so many crucial global challenges the American government would be steering a path in the opposite direction to which we needed to go. Of course I’ve had days of personal tragedy in my life but somehow this day felt more crushing. This wasn’t an unfortunate event or accident. It was a path a great number of the world had chosen. Millions of people turned their back on a path that would address issues like climate change and chose to put issues like gender equality in reverse gear.
We don’t have Trump in Australia but sometimes it feels as if our government is sailing a similar course. The protections under our racial discrimination act have just faced a serious threat. We have a proposal for one of the world’s largest coal mines at a time when we need to be reducing emissions to meet the Paris Agreement and at a time when the Great Barrier Reef is suffering another major coral bleaching episode due to warmer water and ocean acidification. Our government wants to paint a very political picture of renewable energy as unreliable and a threat to the economy. Every day it feels like the hope of minimizing the impacts of climate change and becoming a more sustainable and just nation (and by extension a just and sustainable world) is slipping from our fingers.
It is easy to feel depressed. It is also easy to be apathetic and to hope and wait for our government to realise the error of their ways. Surely one day they’ll commit to major action on climate change or recognise that refugees have a fundamental right to be treated with dignity. But the trouble with climate change is that we really are running out of time. If we don’t act now to halt emissions climate impacts like we are already seeing (2016 was the hottest year on record as was 2015 and 2014 before it) the degree of impact we will feel (and our children will feel) in the future will be exponential. It is both heartening and depressing seeing various European nations announce they’re going coal free. It gives a sense of hope that maybe the world can come together to stabilise emissions but it also rubs salt in the wound that our government is so far from this. It is telling that on 1 April this year the Climate Council announced that Australia was committing to go 100% renewable by 2025. You would have to be an April Fool to believe it.
As an historian there were a couple of things I drew strength from when Trump was elected. The first was from a little understanding of revolutionary theory and historical change. Some of the periods of greatest positive change in history needed something to trigger them. Perhaps the election of Trump could be such a trigger. Perhaps we are at a global tipping point and the election of Trump will be the biggest prompt for action on climate change, women’s rights and other issues that we will ever get. The second was the old adage about the power of governments. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
If we’re concerned about our collective future – if we want a more sustainable and socially just world, NOW is the time for each of us to be the agents of this change. It is tempting to believe we are not powerful and to believe that we have to wait for our government to make the changes. It is tempting to lay the blame on our government (they do have a huge responsibility for their inaction). But more and more I am coming to believe that to get through these times, to try to achieve the outcomes we need, we must do what we can to travel the path ourselves.
When our government is not taking us on the path we need to be the nation that we want we must do what we can to travel it ourselves. It is daunting. We all work so hard already. We have precious little time. Where do we find room for change? But our reality is that we must change. If we do not we risk our children’s future.
We cannot all picket Adani. We cannot all run for parliament. Life commitments do constrain us. But each of us has the capacity for change in our own lives and now is the time we must realise this. Each of us must ask the question “How can I change?” or “How can my family change?” to help make a better future. Because we all must be prepared to make changes for a sustainable future. If we cannot rely on our government we can at least enact some change ourselves. Each of us has the capacity to make changes for the better. And even small changes, when enacted by many, make a difference. We cannot wait for government. We must examine our lives to find room for improvements. Bit by bit we can tweak our habits and bit by bit we will become more sustainable.
You may not be ready to give up disposable nappies, but you may be ready to give up buying bottled drinks. You mightn’t be ready for a zero-waste lifestyle but you may be ready to recycle all your soft plastic packaging. You mightn’t be ready to give up your take away coffee but you might be ready to always carry a keep-it-cup. Bit by bit – if we take responsibility for change – we can change the world.
What changes are you ready to make?
Here’s some ideas I’ve been trying to implement in our household and other possible changes to start implementing in your life today:
- Recycle all your soft plastic packaging
- Donate good quality items you no longer use to charity (don’t dump your rubbish on charities though)
- Ride a bike or catch public transport (even changing one of your usual car journeys a week helps)
- Eat more vegetarian meals (I’m keen to go to some vegetarian cooking classes to make my vege meals more appealing)
- Consume less (try the 30 day minimalism game)
- Kit your bag out with your own reusable coffee cups/straw/cutlery
- Refuse plastic bags and straws (when I buy a bun at Breadtop nowadays I just grab it straight off the tray and refuse the bag – I don’t need it if I’m eating it then and there)
- Drink tap water not juice/soft drink etc
- Go solar
- Give experiences rather than gifts
- Get outdoors more for your own health and sustainable entertainment
- Make your own beeswax wraps instead of glad wrap
- Challenge norms (kids birthday parties for example are a huge consumerist feast where a child gets far more presents than they need. How can we start more sustainable habits here? Ask for second hand gifts or a joint gift from all the friends attending or no gifts – family will give them instead?)
- Advocate for a cause you are passionate about
- Push for more sustainable options in your childcare, schools and workplaces (be the one to introduce cloth nappies to your child care centre, ask your school to set up a compost and to encourage low waste options for children’s lunches, set up worm farms and recylcing in your workplace)
- Donate money to great charities that address the issues we must act on at a global scale
- Take three for the sea
- And most importantly model your change to others. We need to show people that we are all capable of change (even if they are small changes) and that we are all responsible for changing the world for the better)