Guest Blog: Rachel Watts on the Climate Crisis and what you can do about it

Recently, I have been feeling anxious about the future of our planet. On top of that, I was also feeling hopeless-- like there was nothing I could do to make a difference. That's why I approached local write, Rachel Watts, to write this guest blog about what ordinary Australians can do about the climate crisis we find ourselves in. Rachel has been vocal about her own reactions to our situation across social media, and has done her homework around the issue. Handing over to Rachel now...

What it means to declare a Personal Climate Emergency

It is a sunny day in early summer and here in Perth I'm grateful to be able to breathe clean air.
That's where we are as a country. Each day I spend time at a local park where red-tailed black cockatoos feed. In the late afternoon there's the scent of eucalyptus in the air, and I always imagine it's because the trees have sighed in the afternoon breeze.

This land is ancient, and perfect, and in deep distress.

Watching the images of fires in NSW and QLD, of koalas screaming as they burn, and more recently of Sydney blanketed in smoke, I came to a stunning realisation.

This is not going to go away.

This was the beginning of my personal climate emergency. It was the moment at which the disaster stopped being abstract. When there's a disaster heading straight for you, you do everything you can to protect yourself and those you love, and the global climate crisis is no different. Each individual in this country needs to get onto emergency footing and call for action.

So, I have a few suggestions for things you can do in response to the climate crisis ranging from the individual level to things you can do collectively. My biggest request is this: whatever you do, tell someone what you’re doing and that you’re doing it as a climate change response. Have that conversation. In my opinion, we should be talking about nothing else. Use your networks and sphere of influence, and your skills, and pass the message along as often as you can. As climate scientist JoĆ«lle Gergis said at Quantum Words in Perth earlier this year: everyone counts, and every day counts. 

1.     Divest your superannuation.

In all likelihood, the biggest investment you make as an individual is your retirement savings, your superannuation, and if that lump sum is in some random account that your employer told you to take out, you don't know what it's funding. Unless a super fund expressly declares itself to be divesting from fossil fuels you might be supporting that industry without realising. The superannuation fund you choose will depend on your circumstances, so do some research. Some options you may like to look up include Future Super, Australian Ethical Super and Verve Super. You can also go to Market Forces, which actively studies super funds and banks for their fossil fuel investments. If you can't change your super fund, you can contact them and express a desire for a fund that does not invest in fossil fuels.

Divesting your super might take all of 15 minutes. It's worth it. 

2.     Manage your waste, your emissions and buy with the future in mind.

Let me say up front: nothing you can do as a person or a household can fix this problem if big polluters in the LNG, coal and oil industries don't also take responsibility for their emissions. That requires government policy.

There is also a tendency after making individual changes, like giving up your car, that you will feel you have done enough. Studies show that the more people do individually, the less likely they are to support systemic measures like carbon prices. You also have to support these things. We are in peril. There is no such thing as having done enough.

Having said that, I think of reducing my own personal impact as building my resilience. I want to live more lightly on this planet, and learning how to get around without a car is a good way to do that. Composting and reducing household waste are also powerful, and help to foster a regenerative mindset. Gardening and supporting greater biodiversity are a sheer joy to me. These small changes have knock on effects that lead to other changes, helping you live your climate emergency in a regenerative, healthy way.

It's a good idea to buy fewer things. Challenge yourself to go a month without buying anything new, apart from food. Even when it comes to food, you can probably buy less (or no) meat and dairy. If you have space, you could try growing your own vegies. You can fly less, particularly if you fly regularly for work, by holding meetings online. Try not to over-think this, and don't shame anyone for the decisions they make. Everyone's circumstances are different, and remember, we're all in this together.

3.     Reach out to your community.

Do you know your neighbours? Building your local network expands your sphere of influence and helps you think local first. A great way to start is to join a Buy Nothing Network, a community garden or a volunteer group. All of these things will be listed on Facebook or your council's website. Start or join a local Climate Change Action group. Share things you can make, grow or do with the people around you. Donate to important causes. Pay attention to your council's climate change policies and apply pressure when they need a nudge in the right direction.

Knowing your neighbours also means checking in to make sure they're okay, particularly during heat waves and emergencies. Take care of the people around you and be part of building up the resilience in your community.

4. Put pressure on politicians and join a protest group.

Collectively, we need to put pressure on State and Federal Governments to take more urgent action. This means voting climate, calling your MP's office to talk about climate, and signing (or starting) petitions.

But many folks have already been doing that for years, and time is running short, which is why you're seeing a surge in protests. And it's why you should join one. This is not a political issue, it's an issue of survival.

You may feel like you’re not that kind of person. But the situation won’t change until a vocal and active majority of people demand it. We need to make noise. Action is also a good antidote to fear, and it helps to build community around the cause. However awkward you feel, please do show up to events. If you can't attend actions, share them on Facebook and support activists vocally. Don't let them be demonised in the media.

Climate Protests Australia lists events around the country that you can attend.

5.     Be an accomplice – advocate for climate justice.

I don't list this action last because it's less important, I've put it last because it's truly global. Climate change is a class issue. It will affect everyone, but it won't affect everyone equally. People in the global south are more vulnerable to climate change, as are people with less wealth, and people who are already marginalised in some way. Climate change is also product of colonisation. Advocating for Indigenous rights is a climate change action. First Nations people have been fighting for Country for hundreds of years. Elevate the voices of others and learn to recognise and speak about inequality when you can. Stand with them.

If you're interested in climate justice you can consider joining the Climate Justice Union WA, which aims to create a positive future for First Nations people, for rural communities, for fossil fuel workers, for low-income communities, for people affected by extreme weather, and for all other people impacted by climate change.

 Get to know some of Perth’s climate change activists at The Centre for Stories on Saturday, December 14 when the founder of XR Grandparents Les Harrison and speaks with 11-year-old climate activist Reuben Saggar at In Conversation: Perth's Youngest and Oldest Climate Activists.

You can also meet and dance with some Extinction Rebellion affinity groups in the Perth CBD on Friday, December 13 from 4pm.

Rachel Watts is a writer from Perth, WA. She is currently writing a literary novel on remembering the dead in the Me Too era and a climate change novel on building healthy communities in a broken world.

Connect with her, or buy her book Survival using the links below.