Greta Thunberg has told us that our house is on fire. She’s right, and we know it. It’s worrying; so much so, that many of us are suffering from an overwhelming eco anxiety. Psychologists are reporting that more and more clients are suffering from the condition, and the American Psychological Association has defined it as a “chronic fear of environmental doom”.
But anxiety won’t reduce carbon emissions and halt rising global temperatures. And it won’t help nature to heal. Only methodical, science-based collective action can do that. But when we’re facing a crisis of global proportions which requires an international coordinated response, how can we as individuals really make a difference? Well, group action has achieved positive change already and it can again. We’re not powerless. We can work together to apply pressure as consumers, and as voters. It’s time to turn our eco anxiety into action.
Here are six practical things you can do this week that really could begin to make a difference.
1. Stop accidentally investing in fossil fuels
If you don’t want your earnings being invested by your bank in fossil fuels, then change to a more ethical provider. Your new bank will do the administrative leg-work for you. When you leave, make sure you tell your old bank why. And if you have a pension through your employer, ask them to divest from fossil fuels with a sustainable or fossil-free pension fund.
2. Switch it up
Change your energy supplier to one which uses 100% renewable energy – Octopus and Pure Planet are examples. And while you’re at it, set Ecosia as your default internet search engine. They spend advertising revenue on planting trees where they’re most needed around the globe. So far, they’ve planted 123 million trees – funded solely from internet searches. This is the future.
3. Pledge to rewild your garden
Start ground-up. First of all, ditch the peat compost. This month, the #PeatFreeApril campaign is asking people to protect reserves of carbon-dense peat by choosing peat-free compost alternatives instead. As Dave Goulson, author of The Garden Jungle and professor of biology has said: “We’re in a climate crisis. And yet we’re ripping our richest carbon store straight out of the ground and turning it into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It’s absolute madness and it has to stop now.”
Next, embrace the mess. An immaculate lawn might impress the in-laws but it’s basically an ecological dead zone. Let a patch of your grass grow long, let the autumn leaves melt away, and leave a pile of logs as a habitat for tiny critters and amphibians.
Rewilding Britain has a great guide for rewilding your garden. And if you don’t have a garden, then rewild your window ledge instead. Sow some wildflower seeds in a pot, and get ready to watch the butterflies and bees buzz with joy.
4. Get on your soap box
This year, UK climate campaigners have a major opportunity to ask our government to show global leadership on climate action when Glasgow hosts the COP 26 climate summit in November. Write to your MP asking them what they’re doing to hold the government to account on its promise to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. While you’re at it, ask them why they can’t bring that date forward. The UK parliament has declared a climate emergency, after all.
You can write to your local councillors too and ask them if they’ll campaign for the council to divest from fossil fuels, whether they’ll ensure wildlife corridors are protected in new housing development plans, and if they’ll stop mowing roadside verges and instead let wildflowers grow.
5. Decide to buy less stuff
The fashion industry represents 3-4% of the UK’s carbon footprint. As Chris Goodall writes in his brilliant book ‘What we need to do now’, both cotton and polyester fabrics pose real environmental problems. The first uses vast quantities of water and farming space and then leads to the pollution of water systems with dyes, and the latter has a high carbon footprint. We Brits need to curb our addiction for fast-fashion. We buy more clothes than any other country in Europe and typically only wear an item 100 times before disposing of it within two years.
An urgent part of the solution is for us to buy fewer clothes, and keep the ones we have longer. Where we can, we should buy second hand, or clothing made from recycled fabrics. Outdoor gear store Patagonia is leading the charge with 68% of their fabrics currently made from recycled materials, and with a self-imposed 1% ‘earth tax’ from which they support environmental non-profit organisations.
6. Sign up, read up, listen up
Sign up to major campaigns from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Join the Zero Carbon campaign which is asking the UK government to introduce a carbon tax on polluting corporates. It incentivises business to find low-carbon solutions, a bit like how the introduction of a 5p charge on plastic bags nudged consumers into using 86% fewer plastic bags.
Read the Ecologist, the New Scientist or the Carbon Brief newsletter. Listen to podcasts like ‘How to save a planet’, ‘Outrage and Optimism’ and ‘Drilled’. Ask for and give carbon-neutralising gifts via Ecologi. Support national nature groups like the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust, and overseas ones like Bangladesh Environment and Development Society which is restoring crucial mangrove forests.
In essence: do what you can. As Greta Thunberg also said: “No-one is too small to make a difference.”
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