This is the new year. And I don’t feel like celebrating.
Canberra is engulfed in smoke. I feel like I am suffocating. My eyes sting and my throat hurts.
I feel an uneasy, helpless protectiveness towards my son, who is also breathing into young lungs air that is literally classified as ‘hazardous‘. I am considering flying him out of here, a privileged action steeped in irony.
I have lived through this level of smoke, or worse. January 2007. We were surrounded by bushfires in three directions. Visibility at 20 metres. It was unpleasant and foreboding, but nothing compared to the psychic terror this current smoke is bringing forth in my soul.
My younger sister described the smoke rolling in last night as ‘apocalypic’. It feels apt. It feels like the end of the world. Probably because it is.
I first learned about climate change in 2005. I was 16. I was at a Millennium Development Goals student conference in Melbourne. All the savvy city kids were talking about ‘global warming’ like they knew all about it. I finally swallowed my pride, got over my shame at being an ignorant country girl, and asked one of my new friends what global warming was. She explained it to me very well, trying hard to avoid being condescending.
A few years later I went to a public talk with my older sister about ‘climate change’. I learned about the rebranding, how climate change causes extreme weather events, including unusual snow storms etc, so the name has been changed to be more accurate and (hopefully) stop people saying “This is pretty cold for so-called ‘global warming’!”. (I don’t know how successful they were in that aim).
Then last year, Leena Norms, a YouTuber I follow closely, went on a trip to Iceland and came back full of ‘Climate crisis’ zeal. She posted this video. She said something about having 11 years to reverse climate change.
I noticed another rebrand. ‘Climate crisis’ sounds much more urgent. I started to feel a bit more urgent.
I became aware of the amazing work of Greta Thunberg (who by the way has done wonders for the Aspiegirl brand, thanks Greta and solidarity!), and the schoolchildren protesters. I asked Matt, “Why are the politicians being so horrible to Greta Thunberg and the schoolkids?” He said, “Because the kids are calling the politicians out and putting them to shame.”
Listening to a podcast, I learned from Sarah Wilson that in history, when 3.5% of the population has protested something, it has led to change. For example, the women’s suffrage movement, or the anti-slavery movement. This was a relief. I could stop worrying about the climate deniers and the smugly complacent politicians, and get on with being a part of the 3.5%.
Then towards the end of the year, Australia started burning. Everywhere. We are used to bushfires, but they normally don’t start until late summer. Not in spring.
Suddenly it felt like everyone was talking about climate change. I asked Matt, “Why is everyone suddenly talking about this? We have known about this for decades.” He said, “Because scientists predicted extreme weather events, and now we are seeing them.”
Sometimes we really need to be hit over the head with the reality of a fact before we feel pushed to do something about it.
I have always been a rampant environmentalist. But in the past few months I have realised that environmentalism is about more than my individual moral behaviour. It’s fine for me to aim for zero waste, buy organic, walk to the shops instead of drive, etc. Important, even. I shouldn’t give up those things. But it’s not going to solve this crisis. I need to go back to my activist roots.
So in 2020, I have committed to spending time on climate activism. I am going to spend 30 minutes every Friday on action towards solving the climate crisis. It’s a small enough commitment to be achievable. But action alone will not be enough. I am also going to spend 20 minutes every Sunday in contemplation about what next action I need to be taking on the Friday to come.
I am telling you this as part of my move away from individualistic environmentalism. I am hoping to inspire you to also move into action and positive contemplation. If there is a part of you that wants to start spending some time this year on climate activism, please let yourself be inspired.
You probably already know what you need to do next. But if you are stuck, maybe you could take these three steps:
- Sit down with a blank piece of paper and a good pen. Set a timer for 10-20 minutes. Write down everything you are thinking and feeling about this issue. Ask yourself what action you are more inspired to take. Listen deep within yourself. Tune out the voice of fear and tune into your inner wisdom. When the timer goes off, write down your next small action you need to take. Set a reminder for when you are going to take that action
- Set a reminder to repeat step 1 in a week’s time.
- Become aware of your own eco anxiety. When you start thinking about how it’s all hopeless and the world is going to melt and we’re all going to die, be aware of those thoughts. Witness to them rather than becoming enslaved to them. At this point, if you are a person who prays, then pray. If you don’t pray, then think about a way to give up these thoughts to the universe in a way that means you don’t have to carry them alone anymore.
PS: Katie Patrick has written a book called How To Save The World, providing a blueprint for environmental activism that actually makes a measurable positive change. Available through ACT libraries.