I drive a dirty (and I mean dirty) car and love red meat, so much so that both of those things are probably threatening my health, but chances are I am a much better environmentalist than you. Don’t @ me just yet though, let’s start by deciding on a measuring stick we’ll use in our little competition, I suggest a simple one – the one doing the most to reduce current and future impacts of the climate crisis wins.
If you’re like an average Australian, you probably care about climate change; perhaps you’re one of the 21% of households with roof-top solar, or purchase a product within the $2.6 Billion organic produce industry. Maybe you’ve told yourself these are moral triumphs and that you’re doing your part in this mission, but let’s actually measure you on our yard stick.
Using the most liberal estimated impact, these choices and assuming you go all-out, you could save 5300kg of CO2 by living car free, 2500kg of CO2 by buying only green energy, and 1600kg of CO2 by eating a plant based diet. A reduction of 9.4 tonnes of CO2 . Bad news is in Australia, CO2 emissions per capita is 16.8 tonnes per capita — meaning that your extreme hippie lifestyle has only reduced your emissions by about half, and this is assuming you have the privilege of living without a car or the time and money to curate a plant only diet. What do you want the Aussie living pay-check to pay-check to do?
You may be starting to feel lied to, powerless or frustrated that your actions seem pointless. But please if you are going to blame someone, put the blame at the feet of the perpetrator. Harvard research has shown oil giant ExxonMobil has used the tobacco industry handbook and has since 1970s used propaganda tactics to convince consumers it is their responsibility to reduce carbon emissions. You should be angry — you aren’t powerless, but you’ve been lied to, convinced to waste your energy trying to reduce the climate crisis.
The worst part of this is that humans are easily convinced we have done enough, a simple dopamine release putting your minds at ease. Have you ever seen a child’s tears dry with a kiss on a scraped knee? The climate crisis doesn’t care about your feelings, it doesn’t care how many reusable bags you have shoved away in your cupboard, it is burning our forests hotter and more often, it will consume the Maldives with rising sea levels and unabated will threaten to make swathes of our planet unliveable.
Australia’s per capita emissions of CO2 are an international embarrassment and both Joe Biden and Boris Johnson are pressuring Scott Morrison about it. Our per capita emissions are in the same bracket as Saudia Arabia’s emission of 18.6 tonnes per capita, a country whose economy was built on the back of selling oil. Meanwhile our cousins across the ditch emit 7.7 tonnes per capita, the UK emits 5.6 tonnes per capita, and Sweden 4.5 tonnes per capita. And the important thing is that the average person in these countries does not have to give up luxuries to achieve this, instead it’s achieved through governance and regulation.
We have had almost a decade of Liberal National federal governance in Australia – and consecutive conservative governments are those who are responsible for Australian citizens continuing to belch out black smoke. Terrifyingly, the emissions I have outlined do not even consider Australia’s mining and export of CO2 via coal and gas, which totals up to over a gigatonne every year.
Right now might be a good time to consider how much those paper straws are really doing to help.
That’s why I drive a dirty old petrol car and don’t stress about it — my emotions are wasted on it. Instead, I’m a member of the Queensland Greens, I show up to branch meetings, volunteer for the party and send angry emails to my local representatives. The last federal election in Australia delivered a conservative government by a sliver, less than 1000 votes delivered them the two seats they needed for majority government. Now you may be expecting me to tell you that “voting is the time in which we’re all equal and you have the most power, blah blah” but you already know that and because of compulsory elections you show up anyway. What I actually care about is the proactive actions we choose to make ourselves feel better.
You probably know how your parents vote, but do they know how you vote, and have you told them why? Do you and your friends talk about politics or the latest vegan cheese more often? Which conversation will truly lead to a reduction in animal harm? Have you ever written a local representative an email berating them? (That last one can be really therapeutic just by the way!)
Obviously as a current member of the Queensland Greens, my opinion is that you should help us out, be it letterboxing information about the party, donating the money you would have spent on pointless premium ‘eco’ products, or even joining the party and pushing for your beliefs. But if you get anything from this article, I hope it’s not that I think The Greens are saviours (I don’t, we’re just a political party) instead it’s that massive problems such as the climate crisis can only be solved with political actions not consumerist actions. It doesn’t matter if it’s Labor, Liberals, Nationals, or Greens that you contribute to and share your values with – what I want is for you to stand by your values and talk about them.
Do not fall for the lie that just because you walk to work that you are saving the world. The way to save the world is by joining, actively, the tradition of liberal democracy. Speak it with your heart, with all of your lungs, share your opinions and fight for them. The only way to win the fight against the climate crisis is for us all to come together, have difficult conversations and demand our governments enact the change needed to stop this crisis.
Andrew Gillanders is an essayist who wraps his writing in fiction. Living with Bipolar-II, having grown up in rural Queensland, and after being fired for industrial action Andrew’s work is often political and concerned with justice. You can find him in one of Brisbane’s hipster breweries — he’s the one with dyed hair ranting slightly too loud.