Tag Archives: climate change

It’s Plastic Free July and I’m ashamed of myself

It’s Plastic Free July and I’m ashamed of myself
Plastic is chokes oceans, creates awful living conditions, and uses enormous amount of oil to produce

Plastic chokes oceans, creates awful living conditions, and uses enormous amount of oil to produce

As many of you know, last year I attempted the Plastic Free July challenge… with dismal results. I started out the challenge feeling confident that I will rock it because there are so many lifestyle changes that we’ve made already to reduce our plastic use – I always use my trusty S’well bottle and Joco cup, I don’t use straws, and I bring a canvas bag when I go shopping. So I thought, for sure the top 4 offenders have already been eradicated from my daily use. However, once I started, and actually counted how many pieces of plastic sneak into my life on a daily basis, I realized I wasn’t working hard enough. I also realized how many challenges there are for an individual who is trying to do this without a community of support.

So the shameful part that I have to now admit, is that after the challenge I not only didn’t try harder, but I also backslid. And now a year has gone by and the challenge has started again, and I haven’t even said a word. I told myself that I will try it again, but I made no effort to prepare. I haven’t discussed it with my partner. And then Canada Day rolled around and I didn’t start it. And I still haven’t.

One hurdle this summer is that because I have to work on my dissertation, I don’t have any trips planned to get out of the city and into nature. It’s easy in Windsor to lose the connection to the wild. There is no where here that I get that overwhelming feeling of awe, love, and joy for nature as I do in BC, for example. There is no where I can go and spend the day surrounded by old growth forests, or natural and pristine beaches, or the ocean. Southern Ontario is so thoroughly stripped of that kind of joy, and day to day tasks make it difficult to get away long enough to find it. And research confirms the disconnect I am feeling. Studies find that spending time in nature brings a deep sense of happiness and connection, and that people feel a vague sense of unhappiness in man-made environments.

But you can't take the forest out of the monkey, amirite?

But you can’t take the forest out of the monkey, amirite?

As my graduate education is slowly coming to an end, I also find myself more stressed out, eating worse due to lack of time for cooking, and producing a lot of garbage as a result. Last summer, I tried a local grocery delivery, which forced me to eat a variety of great local produce and cook on a regular basis. But we butted heads because they unnecessarily put all the produce in plastic bags, and even though I am very happy to hear that many of my friends signed up for the service this summer, I did not because their packaging practices have not changed. While I still have enough options for good quality local produce with less plastic, the fact that I have to go get it, mixed with stress and lack of time, means I default to going to one of Walkerville’s many delicious restaurants and cafe’s much more frequently than I’d like.

My dissertation (and in part, the challenge itself) also made me think about whether individuals trying to change their behaviour can really have the kind of impact that is needed to avert the worst of climate change. It feels futile, especially when you see things like assholes who are “Rolling coal” as a fuck you to environmentalists, or the fact that the People’s Climate March, the largest ever act of activism on climate to date was slammed for leaving piles of trash afterwards. Why should I bother with all the daily effort and mental thought that is required to build more sustainable habits? What is the point?

Marchers make their way across Central Park South during the People's Climate March on September 21 2014, in New York. PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Marchers make their way across Central Park South during the People’s Climate March on September 21 2014, in New York. PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

In thinking this way, I fall into the same psychological trap that I’ve been reading about: the classic commons dilemma, the failure of cooperation, the insidious impact of capitalist culture on the psyche: If I do it but no one else does it, I waste the effort and deprive myself, while everyone else can still live with all the comforts and conveniences of our throwaway culture. Knowing that this is a psychological trap, as it turns out, doesn’t make it any easier to overcome. It comes with guilt, shame, exasperation, sometimes despair, but mostly… indifference. Sometimes I rationalize it by telling myself that I am contributing to progress through knowledge creation, and that is my place, and that is enough because I can’t do everything. My research on the impact of culture on unsustainable behaviour also makes me ambivalent about focusing on individual behaviour change, when it is systemic change that will have the most impact. All this uncertainty allows me to remain complacent but also ashamed because I know I can do more. And when there is shame, that’s when the conversation dies, because if you don’t talk about it then you can pretend it’s not there.

In writing about it on the blog I hope to puncture through that barrier, to bring it out in the open and shine light on what I’m sure is a common experience of paralysis.


In related news:

~ 10,000 people marched in Toronto today for Jobs, Justice, & Climate

~ If you are in Windsor, and want to join a group, check out the Windsor chapter of the Blue Dot movement

Plastic Free July Update

Plastic Free July Update

Well, it’s almost two weeks into my one-week Plastic-Free July challenge 😉

The biggest lesson I learned from taking the challenge (for the first time) is that it will take several tries.

Mostly, I think the value of doing the challenge is to help yourself see areas of your life where you use a lot of plastic, and where you may already have solutions but are maybe putting off implementing them. One thing that was majorly noticeable for me was that a) there is so much plastic that I don’t consciously bring into my life but sneaks in anyway. Like the fact that I thought I never use straws, but over the course of the week counted several in my drinks. I also noticed that we use way more plastic bags than I was consciously aware of. In the plastic bag case, I know what the solution to a big part of the problem is: bring a container to the store for meats, cheeses, strawberries, or whatever. I have super nice glass containers, I wouldn’t feel super awkward whipping them out, and yet I have not yet gotten over the hump of bringing them to the store. There are other things that I don’t foresee I will solve very soon, such as: bags for kitty litter, trash bags, pita bags? We love pita bread, and it always comes in a bag.

In terms of reactions from other people, I will say it is pretty positive. Many people have told me about their efforts, and just about everyone seemed intrigued when we told them we were doing a Plastic Free July challenge. Some people giggled, wished us luck, or would applaud our efforts and tell us about how they do the exact opposite. But it always started a conversation! Some of our favourite vendors at the market have now been “trained” that we don’t want plastic. The fish and meat guy, Jerry, may sometimes even leave a tuna stake unpackaged for us :). Other vendors are frustrating, like the woman from whom we get hummus. We go to her business at least once a week, and routinely ask for no bags, and instead she double-bags, and ties the bag, when she hands it to you. I have handed her the bag back so many times now, that I think I’m just going to give up on her… mostly because I recently realized that I can MAKE hummus in my Nutribullet and it is astoundingly easy, and quick, and infinitely customizable, which means infinitely delicious 😀

It is no surprise that weeding out plastic will be a journey that will mostly happen gradually and through thoughtful effort. But it is worth taking on the challenge. Here’s why:

Much of the garbage including bags, plastic rings, facial microbeads, etc. end up in the ocean. One of the things that was interesting about the search for that missing airplane was how often the media latched on to “leads” of “spotted debris” only to realize it was just floating garbage. The ocean is FULL of garbage. Scientists exploring new depths in the ocean are finding the garbage made it there first, that’s how much garbage there is. And lots of marine animals either get caught in, or swallow trash and die. Pretty much anything that eats jelly fish would swallow a plastic bag, they look alike!

Plastic is also made from oil. Reducing plastic is a measurable way that you can reduce your carbon footprint. And it’s not all industry’s fault. Something like 40% of carbon pollution is from individual use.

When you buy a product, you’re buying the packaging too. It is not enough to “buy green”, we have to think of the life cycle of the things we use. You likely use a bag once or twice, before it will inevitable either get thrown away or filled with garbage/pet waste and thrown in the dump… WHERE IT WILL REMAIN for a minimum 500 YEARS. There might not even be people in 500 years, but our trash will be here. And companies will keep making more and more of it, unless WE refuse to use it!

Let me know if you want to join me in the challenge, I’m sure we could swap ideas. Or send me your hummus recipe.




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

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?

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:


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.


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.


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.


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

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.

Species on autopilot vs planetary consciousness



It would be useful to re-frame the way we talk about effects of climate change: we are not killing or doing irreparable damage to the planet, we are only killing ourselves (and taking some other species with us). The planet itself will be fine, especially when we are gone. The extreme weather events constantly in the news are worrying but they are either not seeing the bigger picture by asking ludicrous questions like “Do you think this will ever happen again?” (to which scientists respond with “Yes, with absolute certainty”) or they swath it in doom and gloom rhetoric that makes it sound like we are destroying the world. I can understand when people don’t buy that. It is also perfectly understandable to think that the world is naturally changing, like it always has and: 1. It is happening so slow that we have time to figure something out and 2. there’s nothing really we can do but deal with it when it comes.

But I think that what we are really learning in this stage of our development as humans is that the planet is really not that big. We truly are a part of an enclosed unified ecological system. And there are SO MANY of us, that we are having measurable effects on our ecosystem.

I’m sure everyone who witnessed Neil Armstrong be the first man to walk on the moon was tremendously excited and proud of this human achievement. Let’s now listen to what astronauts have to say about what it felt like up there. What  can we learn from what they saw? Check out this amazing short film that talks about the Overview Effect described by many astronauts  as “awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.” They have insight because they saw what we can mostly just symbolically imagine —

In many ways the planet functions very much like the human body, and all the species on it are like the bacterial flora that cover both inside and outside of the body. Right now we are behaving like an invasive species. We are wrecking stuff because that is how we function as a species on autopilot. Let’s not be a virus, let’s be the planet’s consciousness instead. Think about it, we, as we like to think of ourselves, are the smartest species on the planet, and are capable of prolonging our existence on this body we call the planet. Much like our ingenious capabilities allowed us to increase our own life spans, we can improve the longevity of the human race as a whole. If you have or want to have kids, you want them to have a great future. I imagine no one is envisioning that their children will live in poverty and desolation. But an impoverished environment will do just that. I do not wish this on anybody’s children.

We need to come together to stop our own self-destruction by examining what we can all do to help.  Paradoxically, I think that the way we do this is by going local. For many of us on this planet, there are better things to worry about – like putting food on the table or trying to survive in a war-torn zone. But those of us who can, should take it as our mission to restructure our society to support communities and small businesses. We will still all be interconnected through the web, but it’s time to think big and go small. Live IN your community – learn about who you share it with, support those who are trying to make it better (in both fun and necessary ways), and keep sustainability in mind when you are making day to day decisions and do what you can. Only by being present, by researching products, examining our habits, by spending time in nature and realizing we have to take care of the place we live in so it can sustain us, can we effect some kind of change. Little by little, everyone can pitch in a lot. This will transform lives and it’s really truly important. You and everyone you love will benefit from this effort.

Lastly, I think that the youth can be a drivings force for this. We are in an uncertain time; we can’t find jobs, and when we do there will be no such thing as “full time” “full benefits” “retirement savings” (or in my case, this magical fairy unicorn called “tenure”). Who knows, maybe even “union” will be gone. So maybe we should rethink what we are going to do with our lives, because the formula that appeared to work for our parents is not going to work for us. Maybe more of us should be more focused on creating citizenship unions, and contribute to projects in our communities, and learning how to apply our skills to solve world problems. Many such efforts are already in place. For example, locally we have GenNext by United Way that brings together young professionals and allows them to contribute to the community in meaningful ways using their skill sets. But we need to learn how to make this work for us so that we can make a living. Soon most jobs that can be automated will be, so we need to educate ourselves so we can do things robots can’t: think creatively and wisely.