The Appeal of Apathy
Confessions of a climate laggard: the journey from apathy to the first critical active steps.
I get it. I get why people put their head in the sand about climate change. I get how it’s possible to kind of care about the environment but at the same time do nothing much to cut your carbon footprint (apart from maybe the token use of your reusable coffee cup when you remember).
The reason I get it is that I have been that person in wilful denial. Spending time in Germany in the ’80s when climate awareness was already quite advanced lifted me out of the mire for a while, but I soon lapsed back into a mainly comfortable place of inaction. Living in North Queensland didn’t help – people used AC to survive and driving was the only viable way to get around most of the year. I had a worm farm though and I pulled that fact around me for meagre comfort.
So, fast forward to living in Melbourne, working in international education and social innovation, and the number of times my climate-unfriendly lifestyle slapped me in the face started rising. I got rid of the car and started cycling and taking PT everywhere, I invested in some herbs for the patio but I still wasn’t really thinking too deeply about climate change.
Maybe this resonates with you, but even if it doesn’t, the question of how you switch apathy into action probably does. Whether you’re tackling homelessness, food waste or any other kind of social issue, getting more people to care more and then to act is the biggest challenge.
My personal tipping point came when a university colleague calculated how the air travel emissions of every international uni student coming to Australia generated almost 1.5 million CO2e tonnes a year. Another way to visualise that is that every student would have to plant 24 trees just to offset the air travel associated with their study here. I contrasted the billions of dollars flowing to Australian universities from this industry with how little was being done to create awareness, let alone redress it. My outrage was hypocritical though – I had to accept my complicity.
Confronting the inaction of a sector I knew well, in the face of such a massive carbon footprint made a profound difference to my attitude. Working in international education, I was part of a group of people who by definition are well travelled, and who pride themselves on being open, curious and empathetic. Yet, here we were blithely ignoring what was right in front of our collective nose.
I was on a plane most weeks, and if I had an option I would tick the offset button when I booked, but I didn’t book most of my flights myself and I’d never enquired about my employer’s offsetting strategy (they didn’t really have one). I’d certainly never advocated for one.
I am not proud of my previous studied inaction but it is probably useful background when working out how to help others make the switch to being more proactive. While you can’t force people to take on board a message they’re not ready for, I don’t think we should underestimate the power of planting a seed. My approach is to make it easy for people to understand what they can actually do in manageable ways to just get them on the path of action. There are amazing creative examples out there of how to tackle climate change in a big way, but there are also some really simple practical tips which will at the very least stop you being as much a part of the problem.
Once you start, it’s such a good feeling that you will probably want to do more, so these first steps are the most important. So do yourself (and the environment) a favour and take your first steps now. Register for the Carbon Footprint ThinkLab as your first move!
Ailsa Lamont from Pomegranate Global. With 25 years of experience working in more than 60 countries around the world in capacity building and economic development, and as a senior executive at global universities responsible for international education and social innovation, Ailsa combines her extensive knowledge and experience with her passion for environmental action and empowering individuals to make social change.