It’s one of those old stock responses. Usually in answer to someone telling you off for something which isn’t that bad, but which they disapprove of: farting, burping, swearing and the like. “Why change the habits of a lifetime?” A retort, refuting an accusation that our minor misbehaviour is worthy of chiding.
Yet sometimes, inside ourselves and perhaps deep down, we know there’s a time and a place where it’s reasonable to be expected to moderate our behaviour. Not saying ‘fuck’ in front of grandma or the children; only licking your plate when you’re in your own home; not burping loudly in the nice restaurant where you’ve gone to celebrate your parents’ wedding anniversary. That combination of manners and consideration for others which is completely timeless – and doesn’t even need a hashtag.
We’ve reached a time now when we must add ‘habits which harm the environment’ to the list of things it’s reasonable to be asked to moderate. We actually reached that time decades ago, but you can’t alter the past. It’s against the rules even if you did have a time machine. We do have the power to change the present though and with luck this will have positive effect on the future. That’s precisely why we MUST change the habits of a lifetime.
Ideally governments should have the courage – and independence from business interests – to create new legislation in support of the environment and to slow down climate change. Such legislation needs to be robust and practical, not half-hearted or mere lip service. Without legal measures people are placed in the position of not having the time or money to afford to be environmentally-friendly and we get stuck in the finger-pointing rut of principles coming at a price. Until we get to the point of those in/with power realising their duty though, we will need to carry on fighting climate change and environmental destruction with people power.
Changing the habits of a lifetime can work like a Mexican wave if enough of us make small, lasting changes. By lasting I’d hope people would aim for permanent change: breaking environmentally damaging habits and replacing them with new, sustainable ones. But even an occasional change can do some good – like the Meat Free Mondays campaign for example.
If you can make bigger changes that’s marvellous, but even those of us with less will power, fewer skills, an addiction to meaty burgers or really unhelpful habits (like buying things we don’t need when we feel down) can do some good if it means we change the habits of a lifetime.
What can you do? I plan to write about this in a series of posts over the coming months, so you could subscribe or check back for ideas. In the meantime here’s a few suggestions:
1. Give up plastic carrier bags – even the ones which claim to be recyclable. Always have a reusable bag with you or do without. We have made enormous headway on this thanks to the 5p carrier bag tax but there’s still more to do.
2. Avoid buying bottled water, or at least buy in glass or cans. This is a personal struggle for me because I love fizzy water, but I am consciously cutting down and making more use of the tap. More on this in a forthcoming post.
3. Have a go at Meat Free Monday (or any other day of the week that suits). I am an omnivore. I enjoy eating meat, but the food produced to feed the animals we then eat is causing major environmental destruction – through things like the huge swathes of rainforest being cut down in order to plant crops to feed cattle. If everyone ate less meat the world would be a better place.
Whatever we can do to change the habits of a lifetime could help, but are you up for the challenge?
Image of Mexican Wave by NAPARAZZI is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; Image of dirty plate: “Just After Thanksgiving – 365 Days of Rework – Day 63” by anaxolotl is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0