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If current events interest you, then you are probably aware of the many aspects of human-induced climate change. However do you really know what it is or the effect it’s having on our planet? Can you explain what is going on with the weather and why? Do you feel empowered to take action that will make a difference? Are you aware of the power you have as an individual to make positive environmental change?
‘We really can’t say we don’t know what’s going on anymore – that’s no longer an option,’ Dr Peta White says. A lecturer in Science and Environmental Education in Deakin’s School of Education, and a passionate activist in the environmental education field, Dr White says today it’s young people driving climate action in the form of climate strikes.
‘This puts taking action at the forefront of education. When youth feel that they have to stand up – that they have no choice but to take on the responsibility they feel adults are shirking – then the adults have to listen and take notice. This will change school education.’
It’s an issue, Dr White says, that has become popularised thanks to films like 2040, The TV Show ‘War on Waste’ and many other programs aimed at enlightening us, while leaving us with a sense of hope that our actions can make a difference. However, when governments fail to respond to the facts, and when organisations choose profit over environmental responsibility, she admits that it’s easy to fall into the mindset that you as an individual can’t be a great enough force to bring about change.
‘When people feel disempowered, that’s when you start hearing things like: “It’s not me that has to change, it’s the corporations.” While there’s some truth to that, it doesn’t mean that we should be passive and do nothing. It’s our responsibility to continue to have a voice, no matter how small and quiet that voice is,’ Dr White says.
‘We’re not powerless. Every time we’re asked to vote and take part in our democracy, that’s us having a voice. Every cent we spend is a vote for the kind of environment we want. Every conversation we initiate and participate in means we are giving voice to our concerns and actively living in our democracy.’
But it’s important we recognise that everyone is at a different place in coming to terms with human-induced climate change. The plethora of misinformation on climate change floating around online provides a platform for some to disengage from the issue altogether.
‘There’s a lack of preparedness to hear the facts,’ Dr White explains. ‘That comes back to an individual being in denial about what’s going on and being confused about what their responsibility is for taking action. Denial is not an option, the science is irrefutable, we are causing the climate to change and the results will be catastrophic.
‘We need to be respectful of where every individual is at as we’re all coming to terms with human-induced climate change. But we can’t hide from the fact this is a real issue we’re all facing, and there’s an urgency for everyone to take action, for governments to listen and for changes to be made.’
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‘First and foremost, we need to be active citizens. We all have a responsibility to be engaged, and to understand what human-induced climate change is and what is happening as a result,’ Dr White says. ‘Inform yourself about local issues related to human-induced climate change.
‘Think about how you spend your money, because every cent has incredible power in choosing the kind of environment you want. Think about the decisions you make on a daily basis, and acknowledge that every single decision allows for opportunities to become better informed and possibly to take more sustainable actions,’ she explains.
We often forget – or don’t realise – even our small choices have consequences. For instance, buying takeaway food is an unsustainable choice. Not only because there might be food in the fridge going to waste, but also for the use of plastics and packaging used not only in delivering that food to your door, but in the many steps involved in producing that food.
‘We need to think about all the things we come into contact with and understand the process that are involved,’ Dr White says.
‘Plastic use is a good example as it has become such an insidious part of our way of life that we don’t even think about that fact most plastic is a petrochemical-based product. When we use plastics, we’re supporting an industry that we should be thinking twice about.’
Dr White says it’s also wise to consider what it means to you to ‘learn to live with enough’. In a society that values excess, this is an important question.
‘There’s a constant push towards wanting “more”, and this has become the way of our western culture, which is severely problematic. If we shifted that to valuing “enough”, then I think we’d be doing better, feeling happier, and living more sustainably,’ she says.
It can be hard to wrap our heads around the issues of human-induced climate change. We hear how it’s impacting various communities around the world, and as an individual it can be especially intimidating to think about ways to tackle this issue which has many fronts. But Dr White says you can play a productive role by simply starting conversations.
‘There’s so much complexity within the issues of human-induced climate change, and that needs to be acknowledged,’ she explains.
‘Have conversations with your friends, family and colleagues about the complexity of the issues. Because it’s through conversation that we’ll learn more and understand how others are engaging with sustainable practices.
‘It’s these conversations that will enable us to start thinking differently about what it means to live with enough and to live in our changing climate while also focussing on reducing the impacts of our western society,’ Dr White says.
Where to next?
Now that you have some awareness, it is time to build on it. The following resources may help you to learn more and connect with others:
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