Small impactful climate action for the rest of us



It is no secret that our Earth seems to be on the brink of devastation, and that we need as many hands on deck as possible to help bring her back. Something I have noticed recently, as this issue is being talked about more and more, is that there is a pressure to do everything perfectly. We must all be 100 per cent vegan and 100 per cent plastic free and anyone caught doing anything less than this is automatically vilified. 

While two people focus on holding back a deluge of plastic bags, a small child lifts a single one to reveal green shoots beneath. Illustration by Chris JohnstonWhile I think it would be fantastic if everyone could, and would, give 100 per cent all of the time, it simply isn't. Ruling out an individual's efforts simply because they aren't perfect seems to be a fantastic way of discouraging people from joining what is an incredibly important movement.

It is estimated that there are approximately half a million vegans in Australia. According to a study conducted in the United States, if the entirety of their population had one meat free day per week, it would be the environmental equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

Using this data and applying it to the Australian population it seems the current vegan population of Australia is saving the equivalent of approximately 81 million cars. This is already a great number, but if the entirety of our country were to do a meat free day this figure would rise to above 572 million.

While I personally think being vegan is a wonderful way to live and to contribute environmentally, I would say there is a significantly higher chance of Australian people transitioning to eating meat one less day a week, than giving it up all together — at least for now. While this may not be the end of the journey, it would at least be a huge step in a positive direction.

Another largely talked about issue at the moment is the use of plastic, specifically single use plastics. There is a big focus on becoming zero waste, a movement which involves individuals consuming as little plastic as possible. While I think this is a wonderful thing to strive for, once again it comes with the pressure of perfectionism. I know many times I have attempted to drastically reduce my waste, only to get frustrated and feel guilty that I couldn't live up to the zero part of it.

I have found so much more success in taking small steps to replace the most obvious things in my home, and to move forwards from there. For example, having a selection of lovely tote bags that I keep in my handbag, car and kitchen has helped me to drastically reduce my use of plastic bags, which is one of the biggest areas in need of change.


"It's not a huge change for the individual, and it doesn't depend on perfectionism, but it would make a drastic difference to our home."


A study reported by Earth Day Network found that four trillion plastic bags are used annually around the world. Only one per cent of these are returned for recycling. If each of the approximately 21 million Australians over the age of 15 uses two plastic bags a week, that's potentially 42 million bags going to landfill. If even half of those people remembered a reusable bag just once a week, it would save 10.5 million bags.

Once again, it isn't about perfectionism, or beating yourself up for forgetting to put the tote bags in the car, it's about doing the best you can. It's not a huge change for the individual, and it doesn't depend on perfectionism, but it would make a drastic difference to our home.

It is not at all my intention to bring negative attention to those who are genuinely giving 100 per cent every single day, for without them there would hardly be a movement at all. What I do want to bring attention to is the fact that even one seemingly simple act can bring about a world of difference, and that is what we should all be striving for.



Katherine RichardsonKatherine Richardson is a freelance writer and illustrator. Her greatest loves are creating art and her cat Marmalade. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for more.

Topic tags: Katherine Richardson, climate change, plastic bags, veganism



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Existing comments

Thanks Katherine! Small steps I have taken include: installing rood-top solar panels, which has the added advantage of getting electricity credits rather than bills; burying the kitchen food scraps in the garden; growing some of our own fruit and vegetables; buying a lower carbon car; flying little; offsetting our carbon emissions by donating to 'Climate Friendly' etc; taking short showers; installing LED lights;and planting native trees. We need to live simply so that others might simply live!
Grant Allen | 11 October 2019

Hi Grant - they sound like wonderful steps, good on you! There's nothing better than growing your own food, the taste itself can't be beaten!
Katherine | 13 October 2019

Katherine, You May not be ‘perfect’ but you do a large disservice to your argument when you quote v poor statistics on support. E. G. 7.6 billion US cars off the road! Or 572 billion cars off the road in Aus!! .Or 21 million as Aus population!
Gerard | 14 October 2019

Hi Gerard - thank you for your comment. In rereading my piece I realised my error, it is stated as 7.6 million, not billion! And I wrote that there are approx 21 million Australians over 15, not in the entire population. Cheers!
Katherine | 14 October 2019

Katherine, while agreeing with you on the "small steps" philosophy, a gaping hole on our conversations on this topic is in regard to consuming less or at least consuming less new goods.. That would have the most impact in addressing the sustainability of our Earth. But then of course, capitalism is based on more and more consumption!
PAULINE | 16 October 2019


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