A few months ago, I took my husband out for dinner. We’d had a busy few months and we’re doing what married people disgustingly call ‘date night’. After the mains and before dessert I leaned over the table and said, ‘I need to ask you something’. He looked vaguely alarmed, unprepared for a serious question about what he assumed would be about our relationship. There was a touch of excited apprehension too like perhaps I was about to go Fifty Shades on him.
‘How do you feel about composting?’ I said earnestly. Alarm and excitement turned to disappointment and despair. If my lack of game were a superpower and we were in a Marvel Movie, the libido drain in the room would have been visible, his life force ebbing out of him and every other diner there that night.
‘Why are you asking me this?’ he said, emphasising the ‘why’ with resigned desperation.
‘I’m really worried about the environment and climate change. I need to know whether you might be committed to some changes at home.’
I specifically remember when this worry started. It was after seeing a Guardian report in 2017 about how a million plastic bottles are being bought every minute. From then on, I started seeing single-use plastic everywhere because it is everywhere. Where once I didn’t give a second thought to the pleasing convenience of plastic, I was suddenly like that kid in The Sixth Sense, but instead of seeing dead people, I saw dead birds, fish and turtles, strangled by the wrapping on my tomatoes.
To keep doing our bit, we need action that signals a commitment to collective effort from entities larger than ourselves.
Currently, I can’t sit on the loo in our bathroom without mentally counting all the products in there that are encased in plastic. I’m plagued by guilt and anxiety about it. I’ve googled alternatives. I mentally trace supply chains in my head like I’m trying to recall a bad dream. Every time I shop or unpack the groceries, the guilt and anxiety is there. Every time I drive, I feel bad that I didn’t get organised enough to find the two extra hours I’d have needed to take public transport. It’s always there, this low-level panic, this constant hum, this feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.
We are regularly told that we must decrease our reliance on single-use plastic items. That we must lower emissions. That we must consume less. The Government has out-lawed single use plastic bags and there are now more reusable shopping bags in my pantry than food. I diligently try and shop for items that are not packaged in plastic. I try hard to take public transport when I can. I try to buy less, to reduce waste, to occasionally grow my own vegetables.
I texted my husband last week with a list of things I was worried about. It included some personal stuff, some household stuff and then, just casually dropped in like a question about composting over dinner, I wrote ‘The planet’. He sat me down this weekend and we made some plans. ‘We can only do what we can do Anna, and we can do our bit. We’ll do the composting workshop and you can meet other people who are trying to do their bit as well.’ It made me feel better and like I’m not alone in my state of anxiety. That we’re (my husband and I and our new future composting friends) are collectively concerned and that no matter how small our actions, we are all seeking both solutions and some mental respite in doing our bit.
Whether it’s the Devonport Composting Massive or the Government, all we’ve got to counter that terrifying paralysis and anxiety is doing your bit and hoping that others are doing the same.
The ‘do your bit’ narrative is often outweighed by a bigger narrative about large-scale efforts from the Government and the private sector being the only way we can reverse or halt what’s happening.
In New Zealand, those trying to oppose the Zero Carbon Bill and other legislative efforts frequently point to the size of our country as a way to minimise the necessity of change. We’re too small to make a difference, they say, so why penalise farmers, drivers of Toyota Corollas, insert any other lobby group concerned about what the bill means for their profits.
Support for the Zero Carbon bill is wavering, with National yet to decide whether they’ll support it. Seeds of doubt are being sown and watered. Whatever arguments are being put up, unless you’re an out and out climate change denier, you can only describe them as specious and cynical.
The argument that makes me feel the most hopeless and helpless is the one about being too small to make a difference. Maybe it’s true but it’s not a good place to be. It creates a state of fear and panic and ultimately that creates inertia and paralysis. What we need is hope. To keep doing our bit, we need action that signals a commitment to collective effort from entities larger than ourselves. Whether it’s the Devonport Composting Massive or the Government, all we’ve got to counter that terrifying paralysis and anxiety is doing your bit and hoping that others are doing the same.
To do something is better than doing nothing. We will try our hardest. We will make compromises and we will sacrifice convenience. Initially it might be hard, to give up the things that make life easy and cheap, but it is better than fretting on the loo all the time. For those MPs fretting about their voters, upcoming elections and sources of donations, shit or get off the pot. Either come out as those who would condemn this planet to its anticipated fate or make a move to save it. Do your bit and supply some hope.