9 December 2023

Have we really changed our behaviour enough in response to climate change?

| Zoya Patel
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Single-use plastic cups have become less prevalent, but their legacy remains. Photo: L Bails.

I grew up during the millennium drought: egg-timer two-minute showers, never watering the lawn or washing the car, never running water while doing the dishes and always being extra cautious about unnecessary water use.

The habits of that time have stuck with me. I still take short, efficient showers, never leave a tap running and carefully consider my water use.

The anxiety about water usage during drought was the precursor to a more generalised understanding of how my personal actions and choices impact the environment and the climate. As a whole, I feel that awareness across the community. We talk more about cutting out single plastic use, recycling, driving less, and I even have friends who won’t travel internationally at all because of the emissions.

But as we head into more extreme weather and a likely return of drought conditions, are we actually doing enough as individuals in response to the growing urgency of climate change?

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First, a caveat: individual actions can only take us so far, and placing the onus on individuals to tackle climate change and its pressures on our environment through our micro choices won’t do much for the major causes of emissions, which are national and global industry.

Coordinated government action is really the only way to make a significant difference, and our individual actions, while important, can’t counter the continued use of fossil fuels and other environmental impacts from major industries.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t each still have a responsibility to do our best, and I wonder if Canberra’s past two years of steady rainfall have made us a bit complacent.

Every weekend, my neighbours pull their cars out of their garages, park on the concrete driveway and wash them with buckets and buckets of water. I’m not exaggerating – this is every single week for some of these people. Personally, that feels like a gratuitous waste of water, especially when we live somewhere where runoff can’t even get to a lawn or shrubbery.

Post-COVID, the use of reusable cups and straws has become less commonplace, and even I find myself forgetting at times to carry around these items that were so habitual pre-COVID bans.

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The other day, as I was doggedly trying to use biodegradable disinfectant wipes in the kitchen (which is already a less environmentally friendly thing to do), I found myself thinking how much easier it would be to use the non-biodegradable ones, given the one in my hand seemed to be degrading in real-time. But then I thought how messed up it was that I could actually do that because the introduction of biodegradable and plastic-free alternatives to single-use household items hasn’t actually stopped the production of their environmentally unfriendly counterparts. So what difference do they actually make?

With drought around the corner, I am on high alert regarding the condition of our green spaces and the impact I am having on them. As someone who also owns grazing livestock, this feeling is particularly acute – I see the dryness and feel the extreme heat daily and am preparing myself for a return to anxiously watching for bushfires, trying to supplement the lack of grass in paddocks and struggling to keep my animals comfortable when the temperatures are very high for long stretches.

But I’m also asking myself more and more, how much am I actually changing my life to account for and have less of an impact on climate change? It feels too easy still to do nothing – but without more impetus, through measures like having the cheaper, wasteful versions of products no longer available or by laws enforced by government, it’s hard to let old habits die.

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So all those teenage girls and women taking long hot showers, with excessive use of hair dryers are causing climate change.
Good on you Zoya. You need to keep on reminding them they are responsibile for melting ice caps, rising sea levels and global warming.
Actually global warming is preferable to another ice age with glaciers advancing across Europe wiping out cities, population dislocation and mass extinctions, so we should actually be thanking all those women for their efforts to avoid such a catastrophe.

Yolanthe Daly7:08 pm 07 Dec 23

Thank you for pointing out the two essential skills we need to if we are going to get out of this mess: 1. Personal responsibility and 2. Community action.
We all need to do everything all of the time and start now. (That doesn’t mean expressing angst as a keyboard warrior – just critiquing from the sidelines wont help).
It means real contributions: continuing as we are is not an option.

A small starting point is to think about your next consumer choice. Instead of ramping up an affluent lifestyle, buying the next new thing sold to you, using every resource to its limit, you could reflect a little, learn to repair something or just leaving a little in the dam or in the soil for the next generation. That may work to secure the food, resources and health of our kids’ generation. It may make a difference to their survival.

Even if you don’t believe the dire predictions that surround us it would nt be a bad option to give it a go.

It might even create the sense of connection that humans crave that has been broken in this consumer paradise.

Thank you Zoya.
I’m just amazed at the commenters, how can anyone not believe in climate change in 2023? We have known for decades. If you don’t believe the ‘woke’ brigade, watch the documentaries from Shell and Exxon in the 90s.
It is not up for debate, we are seeing the resulting fires, floods, heatwaves. This is set to be the hottest year on record.
If we get off our fossil fuel addiction ASAP we still have a chance of a liveable planet.
That’s the choice.

Most people believe that the climate changes. But not all people believe it’s due to human activity. All science is up for debate. And debate on this topic there is, even in the face of vast armies of self-appointed enforcers of dominant narratives. Anything you think is “not up for debate” is just someone’s deeply held ideological beliefs, where they sense they have the upper hand in social power and status.

Tell me more about science and debate, Rustygear. What comprises debate in a scientific context? What should be brought to the table? When does it matter by whom it is brought? Is disagreement sufficient to constitute debate?

How about building some more dams etc , I don’t live in the third world,

Climate change is a scam

@Oscar Mike – Climate change is not a scam. The climate has changed many times over the multi billion year history of this planet and will change many more times after the human race is just a distant memory.

Anthropogenic climate change however… jury is still out on that one.

Funny thing, Bob, the jury (the scientific community) has returned its majority verdict. Anthropogenic climate change has been found guilty.

“[climate] will change many more times after the human race is just a distant memory”.

Yes, without anthropogenic forcing it may improve. I am less keen than you to hasten our elimination to that end.


Oh you’re another one of those “the science is settled” types huh?

Anyone who states that, doesn’t understand science.

“Anyone who states that, doesn’t understand science.”
I’m not at all concerned about my understanding of science when the criticism comes from an ill-informed denialist.

@JustSaying – I think you’d be surprised to know I have done more reading on the subject than most. The fact that I state it has not been proven, which taking all the variables into account, is entirely impossible doesn’t make me a denialist, no matter how much you require that to feed into your narrative.

I am simply, someone who understands the scientific method and not a “true believer” that parrots whatever they read online like yourself.

The fact that you actually wrote something like “I’m not at all concerned about my understanding of science” makes it rather difficult to take anything you have to say on

…I don’t know what happened to that last post, I must have clicked in the wrong area and accidentally posted half way through.

You have just successfully invalidated your opinions on any such issue with the statement: “I’m not at all concerned about my understanding of science” The fact that you would openly admit that is utterly hilarious, you do recognize that right?

Yeah right – interpret the words to suit your narrative. I’m equally comfortable with that if it feeds your self importance.
Nevertheless, as you do not remotely understand nuance, I’ll refine my comment so even you can understand, Bob.
I’m not at all concerned about my understanding of the science and what I have read, because it’s fine. Especially when the overwhelming majority of published, peer reviewed and accredited climate scientists agree on the human cause of climate change. The fact that a nobody in a social media post questions my understanding of the science gives me no reason to change my view whatsoever. I’ll stick with the information I get from accredited authorities.

Bob, you being a person who, as you say, understands the [sic] scientific method, please advise in that context what makes something “proven”. Are you using the same definition, in context, for “settled”?

Assuming something is not “proven”, what would be bases for action on any matter?

Groan. Anyone mooing about water use in Canberra needs to be reminded that it is an inland city adjacent to the Murrumbidgee river. Anytime anyone turns on a tap, the used water finds its way, via the storm water/sewerage systems or the water table, into the river. So, washing a car is using the water, but is not wasting it.

We did our bit back in the early 2000s. Remember those trailers with the number of megalitres used per day? ACTEW (IIRC that was its name then) was telling us we must conserve water. Then they did the figures and raised the price of water. Carpetbaggers

The same can be said of all water use, everywhere Tatty Mane because there is a global water cycle in which the oceans are ultimately our main source of fresh water (due to evaporation, clouds, wind and precipitation. You are right that the water molecules themselves are not destroyed. However, mixing the water with other things (eg detergent) makes it useless for some purposes (eg consumption, eg conservation of aquatic life). So from the perspective of someone who wants water for the other purposes, if they cant get what they need for their purpose, the water was wasted by car washing (or gardening or whatever). Which is why local governments impose water use restrictions starting with the most wasteful things like car washing. Think about it. Can the animals and plants that live in the unpolluted Cotter River be seen in the Murrumbidgee? Can people live by drinking the water in the Murrumbidgee just below the Lower Molonglo Sewerage Treatment plant?

“With drought around the corner” Another Chicken Little comment

So, essentially, “I’m woke… but am I woke enough?”

If you want to start organising your life around virtue signalling, entirely inconsequential actions, then that’s a personal choice that you are entitled to make but I fail to see the point of this article.

As someone said the other day, is there anything that Zoya doesn’t complain about

Well it’s her job to have an opinion and write about it. I admire the way she wades into all this stuff.

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