Plastic Free July Day 2: You won’t like me when I’m Hangry, and why I have to break up with my hummus lady

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So, I’m not gonna lie – plastic free challenge is more like a lesson in how goddamn hard it is to avoid plastic.

I was mostly prepared today – I even brought a container for take out at the office (I am clearly too lazy to make my own lunch, but perhaps I should start). What I wasn’t prepared for was what actually happened: my coding meeting started way late and then went really long, and not having eaten anything beforehand I was extremely hungry when we finished, and also in a big hurry because I had other places to be. So what did I do? I ran out for a late lunch without my container, and all the places where I usually get lunch that are relatively plastic-avoidable were closed. At that point I just wanted to shove the first food I saw in my mouth, so not only was I not thinking about the package it would be coming in, I also made poor choices in terms of picking something relatively healthy. So count me down for plastic sauce container, fork and knife.

When I got home, I saw that my partner has done the grocery shopping: chicken came in a plastic bag wrapped in another plastic bag. Pitas in a bag; and he said that the hummus lady AS USUAL refused to hear anything about us not wanting bags and purposefully put all his stuff in a bag and TIED it before handing it to him. I guess he felt uncomfortable untying it to take everything out so he decided not to make a fuss. Fair enough, but I’ve had enough with her. She does this all the time, and she knows better; she just does it regardless. What gives?? I think that means it’s time to break up with my hummus lady. Now where will I get delicious hummus???

On the plus side, my veggie delivery guy said that they will “try” to not pack my groceries in plastic, but if it still comes in a bag we are welcome to return the bags with the bins and they’d be happy to reuse them. Better than nothing?

Today’s total: 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 small container, FOUR GODDAMN BAGS. Ugh.

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Plastic Free Canada Day and sneaky sources of plastic

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Plastic Free Canada Day and sneaky sources of plastic

With the first day of Plastic Free July behind me, this is what I learned:

– Tell people right off the bat that you are doing the plastic free challenge/going plastic free before they hand you a delicious Canada Day drink with a straw in it! D’oh!

– I bragged in my first post about the challenge that I’ve already eradicated straws from my life a long time ago, and the first day made me realize that just because *I* don’t buy straws, doesn’t mean they don’t sneak into my life. When I ate at a restaurant later in the day there was yet another straw in my water 😦

– The other source of sneaky plastic yesterday was my veggie box delivery. Even though everything comes in a box, the potatoes, kale, and lettuce were all wrapped in individual plastic bags. I’ve since emailed my grocery delivery and politely asked if they can nix the plastic from my box, but some of the produce is from the States and likely comes that way to them (but the potatoes and lettuce are local, so why the heck were they bagged???)

But that was all the plastic I encountered in the day, so… not too shabby?

Today I am on campus, armed with my reusable water bottle and a container for takeout if I go out to eat. Let’s see if I can do better on day 2 😛

I’m doing the Plastic Free July challenge

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In an effort to practice what I so often preach, I am joining the Plastic Free July  challenge! The challenge is to attempt to refuse as much single-use plastic as you can.

Now I’ll admit, I immediately balked at doing a whole month. That seems daunting… However, you have the option to take the challenge for as many days as you like, so I pledged a week and intend to go for as long as I can for the rest of the month. I also considered doing only the main Top 4 offender elimination. The top 4 single use plastic items are: plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, and coffee lids. But then I realized I’d be cheating because we’ve already eradicated straws and 95% of plastic bottles, I mostly use my S’well bottle for water and coffee, with plastic bags still being the problematic one, though we’ve dramatically reduced their use.

There are some problems for which I’ve had solutions for a while but have been lax on implementing:

– Bringing a reusable container for meats/grocery and takeout

– Getting canvas/cloth bags for bulk item shopping, which is where the majority of my plastic bags are still coming from

– Getting cloth for plastic-free storage of greens and veggies in the fridge

My biggest challenges that I don’t really have solutions for are:

– Cat litter

– The garbage

For the purpose of the challenge we are asked to keep a “dilemma bag” where all the plastic that we were not able to avoid during the challenge will go. This is a neat idea because it will help me figure out other challenging areas where I may not have realized I was using throw-away plastic. I will keep you updated on my progress as I go! Wish me luck 🙂

The problem of waiting for governments to take action on climate change

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Yeah they'll look at you weird, but in a good way ;)

Yeah they’ll look at you weird, but in a good way 😉

Some of the attitudes about climate change have already shifted in a favourable direction: that is the majority of people now think that climate change is real, and the pool of deniers is shrinking. However, now it is not the question of whether it is happening, it is a question of who should do something about it.

Climate change mitigation is usually framed as a global problem that must be dealt with at the legislative level: that is, to mitigate the effects of climate change we must reduce our carbon emissions, which can only be done if governments force corporations to do it. When framed like this, it takes the onus off regular people because anything they may do in their individual lives doesn’t really count, or has no impact.

I think one of the attitudes we need to change is this idea that the governments need to do something, and all we can do is wait until they act. We need to shift this attitude to the idea that everyone needs to do something in their life to reduce their personal carbon footprint, not because it will make some sort of impact on global emissions but because it will have SOCIAL IMPACT.

When you choose to not use plastic, when you choose to shop local, when you choose to bike or take public transit, you are communicating to those around you that you want to change to a sustainable lifestyle, that it is worth doing, and that we all have to start doing something. Just the mere fact that you are doing it activates descriptive norms for people around you. The more they see others doing it, the more it is in our collective conscious that this is what people who care about climate change do. The more diverse and unexpected people that do it, the more attention it will get, and the more different groups will identify with the shift. You are signalling to others around you about what is important. Some, who already do it too, will be more motivated because they will feel community support, some who don’t already do these things will follow, and when enough follow, that is how you reach a tipping point. Only then can our collective voice be loud enough to tell our governments to make better choices for all of us.

For more on what you can do to reduce your impact check out these links:

No impact project

My plastic-free life

Psychology for a better world: Strategies to inspire sustainability (free ebook)

How worried should you be about climate change?

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Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil... and evil will go away?

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil… and evil will go away?

Most people nowadays have climate change on the brain. But should you really be worried? Or are people exaggerating the threat?

The function of worry is to help you cope with threat; worrying is the thing that prompts you to plan ahead. It’s totally normal to worry about climate change. That being said, people don’t want to think about climate change because it brings up questions of life and death, as well as profound change. Thinking about these things is threatening and anxiety provoking, thus people may feel that a topic that arouses such deep fears is exaggerated, hysterical, and not rooted in reality. But there is nothing wrong with thinking about death, and there is nothing wrong with the fact that it provokes anxiety. The more you think about it, as morbid as that is a) the better prepared you are for the fact that it is inevitable, and b) the more likely you are to put your anxious energy to productive use – motivation for action to lessen the impact on your life and the lives of others.

According to Langford (2002)  and Maiteny (2002) (who have done their classifications independently of one another and are put together here) people tend fall into four camps in their response to climate change risk:

1. THE DENIER 

These are the people who actively deny that climate change is happening, or that humans have anything to do with it. They tend to rely strongly on rationality, and have a low tolerance for scientific uncertainty. While rationality is a positive attribute that is needed for problem solving, in this situation it is not aiding in problem solving, it is rationalizing inaction. Their desire for scientific certainty is unrealistic, because their threshold is way too high. The analogy that I’ve seen others use and I think is quite effective is this: If you went to 10 doctors, and 9 told you that you have cancer, and one told you that you are fine, would you listen to the one because his diagnosis puts all the other ones in doubt? Or do you assume he is an outlier because the other 9 independently converged on a diagnosis?  According to Maiteny (2002) these people are likely to stave off their anxiety by increasing their consumption.

2. THE INERT

These are the folks who don’t care. They are disinterested in the topic of climate change, and are likely disproportionately low income. People in this category feel that they have more pressing things to worry about, they have less free time to worry about nebulous threats, when they have more immediate needs to focus on. They may be less educated and thus have a harder time understanding the nature of the problem at hand, and can’t parse the truth from the jargon and exaggerations that pepper the discourse. People in this category believe that climate change is completely out of their control, that whatever happens, happens and there is nothing they can do.

Some people can experience despair and hopelessness, or feel very overwhelmed by the thought of climate change, which may also lead to inertia. Unfortunately, because people can be looked down upon as hysterical, morbid, and even unpatriotic, few readily admit these feelings.

3. THE GREEN CONSUMER 

These are the people who show their concern for the environment by shopping more thoughtfully, but without major changes in lifestyle. This is probably the category I would fall into, and I would say is probably a good place to start for others. Making more thoughtful choices about what you buy is a process – you have to find better products to replace the products you currently use. Through this process you discover that some products cannot be replaced with an “eco-friendly” version, at which point you may decide to live without it or continue using it. Hopefully, the journey leads one to become better informed and engaged in the issue, but not necessarily. Many people who fall into this camp run the risk of patting themselves on the back without putting in enough effort (e.g. not researching purchases enough and falling prey to “green-washing”), or reducing their consumption.

4. THE CLIMATE CHANGE ADVOCATE 

These people are engaged, feel a sense of empowerment from the changes that they have made, and a sense of personal responsibility to spread the word, the joy, and the wisdom. The folks in this category share a belief in “communal efficacy” or the idea that we can come together and solve this complex problem effectively. There are many of these people on the internet running wonderful and informative blogs, encouraging others, educating through film and other media, building sustainable communities, and growing organic food.

As for what proportion falls into each category – it’s hard to tell, and depends on who actually answers the polls, where the information is collected, demographics and social context.

Which category do you fit in? Or do you find you do not fit into any of these? What kind of emotions do people around you express about climate change? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Climate change: Fear based messages don’t work

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WWF is fond of this strategy

WWF is fond of this strategy

This has been the dominant strategy so far – tell people how bad things are going to get if we don’t make changes now, and the fear of an uninhabitable planet will motivate people to start changing their act. But does this really work? Can we appeal to people to make changes in their behaviour in order to reduce climate change by using fear?

Theories of social influence and persuasion paint a complicated picture. For example, if you think that David Suzuki is a legitimate ambassador and a valuable source of information on climate change, then the fear that rises in you may in fact motivate you to start doing something. If you think the government or oil companies (and their scientists) are legitimate sources of information, then perhaps the opposite will occur. But if you fall into the latter camp, then any fear-based message that is coming from the environmentalist side will be met not with scrutiny. Instead, all the focus will be on the fact that the message comes from an illegitimate source, and the message itself will be ignored without thought or reason. This is why you may often hear things like “Oh, that David Suzuki. Isn’t he kind of radical? He is such an alarmist.” Sure, if that is what you want to believe, but that hardly negates the message, which is separate from David Suzuki himself. Unfortunately, research shows that reactive attitudes are exceptionally persistent, especially when there is pride associated with being resistant to persuasive messages.

The other problem with fear-based approach is that it only works when the target of the message feels vulnerable to the threat. We can talk about increased severe weather – heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, snow, etc. but people are very adept at the “it won’t happen to me” bias. As severe weather events increase, this may become easier to overcome – when people in places like New York experience hurricanes, it’s harder for them to say it can’t happen to them. But this means we have to wait until enough people have experienced such adversity before we can get them to change their behaviour. There needs to be another approach in the mean time.

And then there is this gem: a study found that, “the fear of publicly supporting favoured causes in which one had no stake prevented nonvested individuals from acting on their attitudes.” In other words, even if you can persuade someone to change their attitude about climate change, unless how this will serve their self-interest is readily apparent, attitude will not result in behaviour change. It is quite common to talk to people who believe climate change is happening, who believe that human behaviour is a contributing cause, and who are not necessarily doing anything about it because the personal costs right now are high, and personal costs in the future…. are for future you to worry about.

Many of our current behaviours are habits of convenience – and changing those takes more than changing attitudes. What we must focus on is building up people’s capacity to effect change in their lives, and their belief that these changes are not a waste of time, that they will have an impact. The perception of control – that people are choosing to do something, that they have the resources to do it, and that it will have impact, is crucial to mobilizing all the people who are already silently on our side.