a white person's hands hold a ile of dark green leaves over a patch of grass
Credit: Noah Buscher via Unsplash

How difficult are the little things, really?

By Angelita Treanor

We know what we can do for the climate, so why aren’t we doing it?

We can reduce our personal environmental impact in many ways. These little changes, when built up, do contribute to climate action. They show companies that consumers are serious about the climate crisis, and they demonstrate our priorities to Governments.

However, there is a discrepancy between climate-friendly lifestyles, and most peoples’ current ways of living. A YouGov poll conducted during COP26 showed that people were willing to introduce certain habits for the planet – eating seasonal fruits for instance (59% wanted to do this). However, just 7% of people reported doing this already – so one does wonder what prevents those who are willing but not acting yet.

The urgency of the crisis is clear: we need to change our actions fast. Perhaps one barrier is that some people don’t think change should come from them. 71% of global emissions since 1988 originate from 100 companies – which might make individual action seem futile. However we cannot remain ignorant either as we are part of the same system. Active consumers can mobilise choices and vote with their money; with enough momentum we can bring change. If companies chase profit, then let the environmentally-friendly enterprises take that profit. Collective action has been successful before; it’s ignorance to assume otherwise today.

It can be exhausting to think of our actions so acutely, though, especially if we don’t see the immediate effects of our lifestyle. Climate apathy is an obstacle in the way of climate action, and mostly comes from people who do not see how destructive our conventional and “normal” lifestyles are. This may be due to the unequal effects of the crisis – where poorer countries are more likely to be affected strongly, while richer ones have more resilient infrastructure and economies.

Ignorance may be bliss in this part of the world, but it is affecting those elsewhere who are less able to combat it. Countries in the Global South don’t fear shopping alterations and lifestyle inconveniences; they fear their homeland drowning. Recycling is easy to disregard when the built-up waste is not on your doorstep.

“Recycling is easy to disregard when the built-up waste is not on your doorstep.”

Perhaps some of these little changes seem just too different from our ordinary lifestyles that people feel they cannot realistically commit to them. Veganism is one example of this – only 1.21% of Britons, as of 2019, were vegan. Going vegan means changing your cooking, shopping and eating habits – unlearning the old, and discovering the new. But, in the grand scheme of things, is it asking that much? And this is where educating people around you on small swaps is productive: one study found a lack of information was the main barrier to a plant-based diet.

The cost of an environmentally friendly lifestyle can be a potential barrier, and with the current cost-of-living crisis, it’s a genuine concern. One poll of UK adults found 64% wanted sustainable lifestyles but believed that the increasing cost of living makes this difficult. However, amongst younger generations, the majority say they’d pay more for green choices. Unsustainable lifestyles aren’t cheaper – costs are just transferred: the planet pays. The fast-fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, and 20% of worldwide industrial water pollution. Unfortunately, there is no option to remove this consequence from the basket.

“The cost of an environmentally friendly lifestyle can be a potential barrier, and with the current cost-of-living crisis, it’s a genuine concern.”

If we want to talk about costs, though, it will be far more expensive to deal with the effects of the crisis in the future. Changes don’t have to be expensive – second-hand clothes, repairing items and recycling can all save a lot of money.

The climate crisis is too severe already to procrastinate. And while we make small changes, the system must make big ones, to facilitate a world where sustainable lifestyles are encouraged over the current easier and destructive options. If the recent IPCC report was only one line long it might be: delaying change is shortening our existence.


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