I remember as a kid in the UK watching Blue Peter, a children’s TV show, where they ran a campaign to get people to recycle aluminium drinks cans. At that time recycling was not commonplace in the UK, and I was fascinated by the idea that our drinks cans could be turned into other things. I vividly remember the Blue Peter presenters demonstrating that you could tell which cans were recyclable by seeing if they would stick to a fridge magnet, and rummaging around the house trying to find a magnet to test it for myself.
The Blue Peter campaign was my first exposure to the idea that things could be recycled, and I began to understand that that the Earth’s resources were not endless, and that humans were changing the planet through our activities. I was enthused by the idea that by doing small things like recycling our cans, we could slow down or even reverse the effects humans were having on the planet.
Looking back this idea seems naïve and quite quaint, in the face of the enormous challenges we now face from climate change, increasing global population and the endless drive of the capitalist economy. But the thought processes behind it, that we have responsibility to care for the Earth and through our actions we can protect it, still hold true for me. I still believe that ordinary everyday people can make a difference through changing our lives, our behaviours and most importantly our attitudes.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m now living and working as a scientist in Australia, and am amazed each and every day to see flocks of wild cockatoos flying over our garden and kookaburras sitting on the garden fence laughing and mocking us. Of course, many things have changed since those Blue Peter days, but my interest in our interaction with all the systems on Earth on which we rely for life, and on how to minimise the negative effects or our actions, has remained.
Recently I began volunteering with an organisation called Climate for Change, who are building a model to communicate the challenges of climate change and help people to take action. The experience of delving deeply into the specific impacts of climate change on Australia and the world has been at times depressing, exasperating and terrifying.
Previously I thought I understood climate change, but considered it to be a somewhat distant issue, far removed from our daily lives and only affecting people generations down the line. Plenty of time to sort it out, right? But I failed to appreciate the way in which everything is connected, and now see it as a much more urgent crisis facing humanity not just in the future or in some distant country, but here and now. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and hope it goes away – we must act, for the sake of our families, communities, our environment and everything we care about.
An important point here – I do not consider myself to be an activist in the sense that I don’t march, protest or chain myself to public buildings (yet…there’s still time!). I am a scientist, an ordinary person living an ordinary life, generally quite shy and uncomfortable with confrontation. But I am coming to see that activism takes on many forms and is an important tool in forcing social change. The possibilities for ordinary people to be activists in their own way excites and inspires me, and I am gripped by the conviction to do something, to act. But what to do, and where to start?
To avoid being completely overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, I have decided to take an incremental approach. On a small scale in our own lives, I aim to help us to adapt through learning new skills and becoming more self-sufficient, and to mitigate the changes through reducing our carbon footprint. I know these small changes on their own are insignificant, and want to help spread the word on the small and large actions that we can do to harness the power of everyday people to tackle these challenges. I believe it’s possible for us to return to live simpler lives, to build stronger more resilient communities, and to be happier and richer as a result. The dreamer in me thinks that’s a lovely idea, but the scientist in me needs to experiment, to play and see with my own eyes how this could be done, what works and what doesn’t. And that is what has brought me here.