Two years ago, I moved into a house share with three others (plus two occasional overnight guests) who all found each other through a love of sailing. Apart from that shared interest, our backgrounds couldn’t be more different: we have distinct political ideologies; different levels of education; about a 15 year age gap; an assortment of nationalities; varied hobbies; and jobs that range from sailing boats to installing and fixing electronics (or, in my case, encouraging sustainability). And, as you’d expect, our understanding about climate change is mixed.
As someone with a keen interest in that very topic, I’ve been integrating climate conversations into daily interactions with my housemates since moving into the property. These can still, at times, feel awkward, discouraging or perhaps trivial, but evidence suggests they form the basis for crucial social change. I asked my housemates to reflect on their time here to learn more about their climate change journey: where they started, what’s changed and where they hope the future is headed.
Climate change back in early 2018 wasn’t really on the agenda – the likes of Extinction Rebellion, climate emergency declarations and Greggs vegan sausage rolls were still months away while shows like Blue Planet II had only recently debuted. My housemates knew that climate change was a serious global challenge – with limited time to act, but the basics reported by the media didn’t give them the tools necessary to address the problem. Even now, some feel powerless to prevent climate change and many are frustrated by the inactions – or worse still, the damaging behaviours – by fellow human beings. Although my housemates don’t all give climate change much thought day-to-day, it’s hard to ignore when it’s staring you in the face.
Some had already started carrying reusable water bottles and carrier bags before moving in; others were minimising their transport footprint by using active travel or not idling engines; most were even good about conserving energy by switching off lights and using heating controls. But other habits – even ones I had taken for granted, were unfamiliar and required a bit of education, some trial-and-error and plenty of prompts before becoming routine. I specifically remember a conversation soon after one housemate moved in where he told me he had never recycled before. So it’s amazing to see how far we’ve all come! That rescued compost bin in the garden that previously no one knew what to make of? Everyone is now adding their vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and shredded paper to it.
Almost all the responses to my survey seemed to suggest that social norms played an important role in adopting new habits (one specifically referred to me acting as the collective consciousness). I may be farther along the sustainability journey than the people I live with, but I still have a long way to go. I would struggle to give up flying, for example, as most of my friends and family live overseas; and although my preference is for vegetarian meals, sharing meals (even with picky eaters) trumps my desire for a strictly plant-based diet. At the same time, I take part in challenges, like Plastic Free July and 1 Million Actions 4 the Planet (i.e., 3 weeks of car-free, plastic-free and vegan living), to learn what’s possible, find my limits and hopefully carry forward some of the positive changes I was able to make. The visibility of such challenges and the discussions these prompt, even if housemates aren’t actively participating, at the very least increase awareness of our individual carbon footprints. Whilst I don’t expect that these will cause my housemates to give up meat nor will they make electric vehicles or train journeys any less expensive, I can already see small changes permeating our home.
So what were the top three changes my housemates would like everyone to make?
Have you tried having a climate conversation with your friends or family? How did you think it went?
Learn more about having climate conversations by downloading the Climate Outreach #TalkingClimate handbook, watching Katharine Hayhoe’s TED talk or reading this article by Possible. You can also use an online tool (e.g., Footprint Network, WWF’s environmental footprint calculator) to see how your carbon footprint stacks up.
If you’ve been following along with our New Year’s Resolutions, take a look ahead to November and start planning your climate actions and conversations.