Chances are that when you are reading this, it is either late in the day and you are feeling tired after a busy day, or you still have a long list of things you need to do today: emails to answer, appointments to attend, logistics to sort out with your family or friends, holiday plans to confirm… And now you are supposed to find time to do something for climate change, too?
I don’t have an excuse, really. I would like to do more … I just don’t have the time.
This is what a good friend of mine said the other day. His comment didn’t surprise me – most of us have tried to change something in our lives, and failed because the rest of life gets in the way. In my work as a coach, one of the most common conversations is about creating headspace that is needed to change our behaviour or habits. There are good techniques, but they only work when we actually want that change.
How about changes that we don’t want?
Few of us want to stop eating meat, shop less or start giving feedback about environmental issues to service providers. I mean, they are all good things to do, but not something that we really want to do. And that’s what matters1.
In this situation, I think the most powerful thing to do is to revisit our values. We can do this simply by asking ourselves the question what, at the end of the day, matters to us most. We might just absolutely love our Sunday roast, but given that there are other delicious options, is that roast so important, that we are willing to be part of over-consuming the planet’s resources?
If your answer is “no”, starting to make new choices can have a surprisingly profound effect. It is our decisions and choices that define who we are and what we believe in. Even small actions like this have an impact on our feeling of integrity and self-respect.
What matters to you most?
My starting to write these blogs and articles has come as a bit of a surprise to some of my friends. If I am honest, one big reason why I started, is guilt.
The guilt I felt when my 12-year old goddaughter showed me her drawings about a bird that had eaten plastic, a polar bear on melting ice and the world in fire.
The guilt I’ve been feeling through the realisation that I might be of a generation that lives in one of the safest and most prosperous time periods in European history. And not just that, but the fact that my generation could be where the positive development stops. Considering poverty, health, and safety, life has been getting better for humanity for generations. Now, climate change is rapidly increasing the probability of major conflicts and dramatic humanitarian crises.
The area I live in is still one of the safest in the world but I cannot close my eyes to the fact that many other areas have become fragile, and the 6th mass extinction is proceeding fast. Snow games I got to enjoy as a kid may soon be history, but I want the next generations to have some nature in their natural habitat left to enjoy (and not just in virtual reality…). I read somewhere that unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off. That’s exactly how I felt.
Climate change has already caused irreversible damage, but there is still a lot we could save. That’s what motivates me to give up some of the comforts and pleasures I am used to.
And, I’m noticing it’s not that hard. I’m noticing this is not just about giving up. I’m also gaining. The new choices I have started to make to consume less and more considerately, have given more meaning to those things I do buy and do. And I’m feeling calmer because I’ve started to take some action. That alarm snooze is a bit quieter.
1 There are several science-based books about what drives our behaviour and decision making. One rather good one released in 2019 is Alchemy by Rory Sutherland.