In the UK, most people are concerned about climate change, but it’s also easy to feel that one’s personal actions make no difference. I sympathise with this, but also disagree. If we can combine our personal actions with the political it’s enormously powerful. It’s also good for our mental health and physical wellbeing.
Over Christmas, I was very concerned when several young people told me that they’d heard that we’re all going to die in 12 years. This isn’t true, but this sort of eco-anxiety it becoming so common that the UK Council for Psychotherapy recently ran a conference on it. This produced some excellent advice on how to cope.
They recommend trying to live your life more in accordance with your values. For example, if you care about climate change, it helps reduce the internal stress if you’re taking practical personal actions like eating less meat and dairy, or choosing to fly less, or simply wearing warmer clothes instead of turning the heating up. Doing this in company with other like-minded people is particularly helpful.
They also pointed out that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much if we can’t achieve perfection. We are all embedded in a system that currently makes it hard to live a low carbon life, so, for example, if there are no busses between your home and work, you may have no option but to drive more than you want.
However, where “The System” doesn’t yet make it easy to do what you want, you can very significantly increase the impact of your personal actions by quietly raising awareness about what you’re doing.
For example if you decide you want to eat less meat and dairy, make sure that every time you go to a restaurant you make a point of asking about the vegan options. Whether or not you ultimately choose that option, you’re helping demonstrate that there is interest and demand for vegan food. Often you’ll find that lots of other people then welcome the increased choice, even though they’d never had the courage to mention it. (My local pub tells me that their new vegan pizza is now really popular!)
And finally, your personal actions can add weight to your political demands. If you want to encourage our Local Councils to accelerate the transition to zero carbon, it makes your arguments more powerful if you can say something along that lines that “ I feel so strongly about this that I have changed my life by doing x/y/z”.
We’ll all have the opportunity to do this, when the consultation opens on the first stage of Greater Cambridge’s new Local Plan on the 13th January.
Anne Miller, Carbon Neutral Cambridge