By Gord Stewart
The people have spoken. A June Ipsos poll found that climate change was an issue of personal importance to 79 per cent of Kiwis (up from 72 per cent a year ago).
Fully 69 per cent of us have become more concerned over the past few years (up from 60 per cent).
More than two-thirds of Kiwis are prepared to act to reduce climate change impacts. Yet, surprisingly, only about half know what steps they should take. If you are in this uncertain-what-to-do group, here are a few suggestions. If you’re already on to it, pass this along to someone you think should join in.
“Meatless Mondays” are popular with those favouring gradual change. Going ‘cold turkey’ – if you’ll pardon the expression – suits those who’ll take the plunge. Many people are turning away from dairy products too (demand for ‘mylk’ is increasing). This is all good news as whole-food, plant-based diets have a lower impact on the environment (including greenhouse gas emissions) than those based on animal protein. They’re better for your health, too.
Throughout my life I have been an on-again, off-again vegetarian. Ten years ago I adopted a vegan diet. Full stop. Was it difficult? Without a doubt. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Lack of self-discipline is the biggest reason why people don’t stick with it. Advice: Try it for six weeks with no compromises. (Spoiler alert: you’ll feel physically better in less than three.)
The single-occupancy, petrol-powered motor vehicle is another ‘driver’ of climate change. Walking, cycling, public transportation, and car-pooling are all viable alternatives They may not be as convenient, but they are less expensive and arguably more pleasant.
As for vehicle ownership, hybrids have been a good transition to fully electric vehicles (EVs) now coming into their own. My hybrid has served me well, but there are times I know I should be on my bike.
I know someone who has 50 pairs of shorts and 100 caps. Really. And another who spent time with a major sports apparel company devising ingenious ways to sell overpriced running shoes to seven-year-olds. (The one with the shorts said, “You gotta get ‘em while they’re young!”)
There are all sorts of reasons why we buy lots of stuff. Marketers turning ‘wants’ into ‘needs’ is part of it. Yuval Noah Harari, in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, wrote, “We believe that buying more stuff will make us happy, because we saw the capitalist paradise with our own eyes on television.”
Stuff requires earthly resources. We source, produce, transport, use and discard, with environmental impacts at every step of the way. Less stuff, less impact.
In terms of cutting back, all I can say is we can resist the pressures to consume. I have two pairs of shorts (one on my body, one in the wash). I have two Patagonia heavy organic cotton shirts I bought in the early 1990s (timeless look, not worn out). I am leaving them to my two sons in my will. If I want to be happy, I ride my bike. Or read a good book.
Travel and holidays
If we are to have any chance of a zero carbon future, we’ll need to dramatically reduce our recreational use of fossil fuels. One close friend who has sworn off flying is showing the way. I’m not quite there yet. I’m still on a plane occasionally, for reasons of family.
For those who are able to travel and enjoy holidays, perhaps time we made some sacrifices. It would be a way for us to experience a little of what life may be like for future generations. We could dream about and plan a lovely overseas holiday, then not go on it. We could leave the motorhome in the driveway for a season. Leave the jet-ski on the trailer this summer. Or the fizz boat at the dock.
Finally, we can vote in the coming local elections (and in next year’s national election) for politicians who understand the challenges we face – and are prepared to truly tackle them.
We need more bike lanes and solar panels, for example. Local policies can make this happen. We need efficient, affordable public transportation, more and more EVs on our roads, and farms flourishing with sustainable produce. National legislation can encourage this.
We need an environment where the steps we must take are comfortable ones. Where the right choices are easy ones.
Yummy vegan and vegetarian recipes – see revive.co.nz for the Revive Café Cookbook series (set of seven!)
Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich by Duane Elgin, HarperCollins Publishers, 2010
No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg, Penguin Books, 2019
*Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics