a change in time

musings on behavioural change – the small stuff and the big stuff.


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checks and balances; where change lives

I thought it was about time I looked back over the last three years, from the time when I started the Graduate Certificate in Sustainability, to see what changes we have made and what still lies in the ‘too hard basket’. The ‘We’ to whom I refer is my husband Peter, and myself. I am lucky that Peter has supported me from day one in my attempts at behaviour change. Such support is not a given.

The change I am most pleased about is our reduction in food waste, or more precisely, wasted food. While we have made attempts over the years to ‘divert food waste from landfill’, it hasn’t always been a top priority, funny about that. We’ve had a compost for years but that has become a place to stack all unwanted green waste. I have had some success with worm farms, however I have twice been defeated by a string of hot days. Then one of the students in the course suggested I try the bokashi bucket. It suits our lifestyle perfectly, something not to be underestimated, so now all scraps and any leftovers go into the soil in our backyard.

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Chopping up food scraps is a meditative practice for me – I enjoy the process and the result.

Another area where our awareness has been raised is, just how embedded ‘single use plastic’ has become in the western lifestyle. I am constantly reminded, at the monthly creek sweeping of Darebin Creek, of the amount of plastic being thrown away. We stopped using plastic bags, for the most part, some time ago. We still have a way to go when it comes to kicking the habit of buying prepackaged goods from the supermarket. Some people seem able to go cold turkey – once they realise the damage a product is causing to the environment, they no longer buy it – still working on this one.

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I was pretty shocked at how far down the layers of plastic go. There was no way I could remove all of it so I stuck with the most recent items that could end up in the waterways.

But let’s not get too depressed. There is fun to be had in this crazy old world in which we live. Our efforts at ‘re-using, re-cycling’ etc still provide a lot of pleasure and pride. Take for example, when our washing machine recently stopped working and was beyond repair.

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Peter made it into a brazier! Okay, the plastic might melt from the heat, but we’re going to give it a go. Suki is not so sure.

One unexpected outcome was my new career as a rapper. (ha ha!) As  part of our graduation from the Community Leaders in Sustainability program, we were required to make a short video of what we would take away from the course. Inspired by our son, Louis, who kindly allowed me to use his beat, I decided to try writing a rap. Peter took on the role of camera operator and editor and , voila, instant fame!

And last, but not least, I finally ditched the big toilet paper company and changed over to a company that has a strong ethical basis – my logic being that we should support companies that are committed to making a difference.

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The name is a bit off-putting, but it isn’t a bad question for us to be asking ourselves. (Couldn’t resist a free plug for Bill Gammage’s book!) 

The main thing I have learnt on this comparatively newly chosen path is that it is worth making these small changes, even though there are those who think we are way past being able to make a difference with the little things. It is our continued desire to consume way beyond what we actually need that is contributing to the current swathe of problems linked to environmental degradation. If we stop buying stuff, the companies producing it will have to change their ways.

For our children, and our children’s children.


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Change a name, change a place

In 1975 I went on a school bus trip to Uluru, although at the time we only knew it as Ayers Rock. What I remember from that visit was the seemingly endless, rutted roads we travelled, the mouse plague that resulted in us having to sleep in our bus, and my aborted attempt to climb the rock.

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That’s me on the right, totally freaking out at being so far from the ground. The chap on the left, who looks like he’s on a Sunday afternoon stroll, was our English Literature teacher, Tom Liddicoat.

In 1999 I returned to Uluru with Peter, Louis and Yoshi. Things had changed in the intervening years, “On 26 October 1985, the Australian government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines, with one of the conditions being that the Aṉangu would lease it back to the National Parks and Wildlife agency for 99 years and that it would be jointly managed. An agreement originally made between the community and Prime Minister Bob Hawke that the climb to the top by tourists would be stopped was later broken.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uluru

And from the same wikipedia post: “In 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names that consist of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. On 15 December 1993, it was renamed “Ayers Rock / Uluru” and became the first official dual-named feature in the Northern Territory. The order of the dual names was officially reversed to “Uluru / Ayers Rock” on 6 November 2002 following a request from the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Springs.”

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We had no intention of climbing Uluru in 1999, and I felt embarrassed that I had been so unaware of the spiritual significance of Uluru to the local Anangu people, back in 1975.   (This photo was actually taken by my mother, in 1998. I didn’t know my parents had viewed Uluru from a small plane until I saw this photo.)

The dual naming of Uluru / Ayers Rock set a precedent for Aboriginal groups across Australia and in recent years, the push for more dual names for significant places has grown and the response to these name changes has been mixed.

In 2013, Tasmania became the last state to introduce the dual naming policy. At the time Lara Giddings announced that “Dual naming is about recognising the Aboriginal community’s rightful status as the first inhabitants of this land and celebrating their living culture, traditions and language,”

The first we knew of the existence of the dual naming policy being enacted in Tasmania, was from the way my sister Jann refers to Mt. Wellington as Kunanyi.

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kunanyi / Mt Wellington taken from my sister’s balcony. The mountain stands like a protective being, overlooking Hobart, its people and the land.

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On a visit to Hobart in 2015, Jann took us to the top of kunanyi / Mt. Wellington, the sign reflects the mountain’s dual name.

This year our attention has been turned to a more local push for a name change. Darebin Council has invited residents of Darebin to discuss changing the name of Batman Park. The council has voted unanimously to change the name. The local newspaper ran an online poll, with 80%  of the 2000 people responding, that they do not agree with the change. One response declared that the name change was more leftist PC garbage. I beg to differ. (Okay, I may be a leftist PC type at heart, but surely someone has to be!)

Batman Park has played a role in our family history. Not surprisingly, our two sons, when they were little, were big fans of Batman, the comic book character. They loved going to Batman Park. We didn’t think about Batman the explorer, or how naming parks, and railway stations and electorates after this man might affect the local Aboriginal population. Our sons are all grown-up now and they no longer connect the park with a comic book character.

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Our son, Louis, recently posted this image on Facebook, with the caption, ‘Batman is cool. John Batman is a douche.’

Don Watson, in his book, Caledonia Australis: Scottish Highlanders on the Frontier of Australia, declares: “Yet before the pastoral interest sent in the flocks and herds and retainers, and convicts and Native Police, and the state sent in commissioners and magistrates, and the churches their ministers and missionaries, the explorer made his own kind of conquest. By naming the rivers and hills and rocks after the icons of his own culture, he began at once to paint out the past and with it the culture and legitimacy of the land’s original inhabitants.”

Angus McMillan (1810-1865) is the main focus of Watson’s book. Institutions, streets, parks and an electorate are named after him. In 2002, Andrew Rule wrote an article ‘The black watch and a verdict of history’ where he mentions “a call to change the name of the federal seat of McMillan, named after Angus McMillan, the Highlander credited with founding Gippsland but increasingly debunked as murderous exploiter rather than heroic explorer.The West Gippsland Reconciliation Group, based in Warragul, has named McMillan an “unscrupulous opportunist” whose name should be removed from the federal electorate.

This call to change the name of the McMillan electorate has been reestablished by Russell Broadbent, the Federal Member for McMillan. He believes “it would send a message of practical reconciliation, it would send a message that we actually care about these issues and if we are not responsible to our past, we don’t understand our past, and we can’t get on with our future.”

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Death of Angus McMillan 2014 Rodney Forbes

On February 13th 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. I remember the day. I was driving up to Ballarat to visit students and I couldn’t help but be moved. Finally we were taking steps to acknowledge the past. It seems to me that there is a tipping point occurring that obliges us to carry out the desire of the many Aboriginal groups across the country who would like to see the removal of the names of “those lakes and waterfalls and canyons after Wellington and Victoria and the heroes of antiquity, or some wealthy benefactor or great aunt”. (Quote from Caledonia Australis.)

In the time I have been researching this post, there is one aspect that has stood out regarding the way European place names compare with the names given by Aboriginals . For the most part, we name places after people, whereas Aboriginal names acknowledge the features, including flora and fauna, of the landscape. For example, Darebin, our local council electorate, is derived from the Wurundjeri word ‘dara-bin’ meaning swallow bird.

Maybe this resurgence, whether it be via the dual naming policy or as a complete name change, is a sign that as a country, we are growing up. I hope this is the case.

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For Peter’s birthday this year we stayed at an Airbnb located in Korweinguboora, from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘where the crane eats frogs’.

 

 

 


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Changing of the guard

In June 1973, the Webb family purchased a 204 acre property in the Strzeleckis, just up the hill from Toora.

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we think this photo was taken after fires went through the area around 1923-33. There is still lively debate on the actual date.

For the city born-and-bred siblings, 11yo Melissa, 15yo Peter and almost 18yo Keith, suddenly there was a new place to roam and that is exactly what they did.

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Melissa, Dean Richards and Kirsten Bunney in the back of Keith’s Morris Minor Ute. (photo by Keith) 

For many years, the family travelled down regularly in Gordon’s van or Lois’ Pontiac. Eventually Keith, Peter and Melissa added other interests to their farm visits and, for awhile, the farm became Lois’ and Gordon’s domain.

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A much loved ritual – drinks on the verandah after a hard day’s work (KGW)

They split their time between Box Hill and Wonyip, their combined vision of what the farm could become was slowly revealed over the years. Gordon enlisted a nearby farmer, Bob Clarke, to help build a barn from corrugated iron and local trees.

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If you’ve ever been to the barn, you will know how far away Gordon is from the ground! (KGW) 

Lois enlisted Gordon to help create her own version of an English country garden, along with a rambling vegetable garden and an orchard of her favourite fruit trees.

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Lois at the back door, the garden protected from wandering wombats. (KGW)

Keith is a fine photographer and we are fortunate that he has recorded many of the changes that have occurred over the years. He recently commented, “I can remember consciously trying to capture the normality of life back then which seemed set to stretch on into a happy future.”

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One of those good days. Peter holding baby Louis, hanging out with Gordon and Lois. 

I could very much relate to this. When one is in the midst of life, it does seem like these days will stretch on forever. Peter and I have been together for 32 of those 43 years. We took our children to the farm in those early days and they soon came to love it just as much as we do.

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I could write an entire blog on this photo. Ruth, Yoshi, Peter and Louis, early 90s

But the good times do not stretch on forever. Gordon died in 1996 with Lois following in 2012. After Gordon’s death, the natural flow of those happy days were changed. Without the weekly care provided by Lois and Gordon, the vegetation and local wildlife started to reclaim the land. The house suffered as well.

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The Wonyip weather can be harsh and the northside of the house takes the worst of it.

We still had many good times however something needed to occur that would allow us to manage the farm in a way that would not require weekly attention.

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Happy smiling people! Yoshi, Ruth, Peter, Louis, Dean, Melissa, Phil, Jesse, Luke 

Around 2007, we joined the local Landcare group. Many of the Landcare members were city folks who had bought properties in the hills much like Lois and Gordon. We soon became involved in several local projects such as tree-planting and the removal or containment of ‘noxious weeds’.

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Tree planting on the top eight acres. Werner and Turid from our Landcare group. 

Our big break came when the Jack and Albert River Restoration project awarded us a grant to spray the blackberries on the property.

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Watch out blackberry, the JARR project is on to you! 

This was a turning point as we now regained access to a large area that had been completely off limits due to blackberry invasion. It led us to consider placing a covenant on about a third of the land – a large area of wet and damp forest and cool temperate rainforest that had managed to avoid being cleared.

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Tree ferns, Silver wattle, Blackwood and Mountain Ash share a complex ecosystem  

We have all become connected to the hills of Wonyip, each in our own way. Peter and I are interested to see what kind of relationship our sons, nephews and nieces will form with the farm and the land.

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Louis was inspired by Bruce Pascoe and his book, Dark Emu, to plant yam daisy. He will plant seeds in different sites at the farm. Maybe a new business! Yoshi is being a very supportive brother.  

We are incredibly fortunate that Lois and Gordon had the foresight to create a home away from home in such a beautiful part of the country.

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Just wow

May our children and grandchildren continue this story with the same delight as us.

 

 


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Our memories connect us

Yesterday Peter, Louis and I just happened to be driving near Pakenham, the place my family were living when I joined the Williams clan. The only memories I have of the house are based on photos taken by a neighbour. Fortunately Hugo, was old enough to remember some of the events that happened at the time. He could tell me the name of the street, and that we lived next to a creek which had flooded our house one year. This was enough for me to find the house on google maps.

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The house is the one on the left just above  ‘Pakenham Creek’. 

I sent him a screen grab from street view and he was pretty sure it was the same house.

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I was surprised that the house has been repainted since this image was taken. Things can change quickly these days; what you see on street view may not still be there. 

Peter, Louis and I dropped by to take a closer look.

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Peter caught me contemplating what life was like for me as a young child in this house. 

In studying the photos of my brothers and I from those days, the house detail in the background convinced us that it is definitely the same house.

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It was the detail on the corner of the house in this photo that had us thinking that it had to be the same place. I obviously hadn’t learnt to say ‘cheese’ yet! 


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The fuchsias from the last photo connect this photo to the same location.


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On the back of the photo, our father had written, John 6, Rodney 4 & 1/2, Ruth 18 months 

It’s a strange sensation to return to a home after almost sixty years and find that it is still there. Especially in these days when townhouses and apartment blocks win the toss against family homes.

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We couldn’t help wonder if the residents were looking through the window wondering what in the hell we were doing! 

Hugo asked why I had suddenly become interested in that old house. I told him how, at lunch on Tuesday, our mother had told me that she couldn’t remember what I was like at a child. It occurred to me that Hugo was now the keeper of our early family memories, thank goodness for older siblings! And younger ones – Jann joined us in 1961, making the family complete.


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Plastic is the hard evidence

When you have one of those nice little chats about ‘the fate of the planet’, you most likely focus on the fossil fuels vs. alternative energy debate. You might even discuss the high percentage of methane in the atmosphere caused by livestock and landfill. Today I’d like to have a go at investigating the role that plastic plays in such discussions.

While Peter and I have managed to break a few plastic habits over the years – forgoing plastic shopping bags and water in plastic bottles – there is still a way to go. (Please contact the author personally if you want to know the ugly details.)

My plastic awareness metre went off the scale just a few weeks ago when I joined a local group in picking up litter from the banks of Darebin Creek.

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This packaging has escaped from the yard of a business that backs onto the creek. Guess where it is heading.

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned how the sustainability class I attended at Swinburne University was introduced to the fact that when we throw something ‘away’, it actually goes somewhere, and while this sounds annoyingly obvious, it is a concept that has only wired into my brain since having to pick up stuff that has been thrown away.

Other than plastic bottles and syringes, the third most common item I found while creek sweeping was plastic straws, a seemingly innocent item that Peter and I have been using in our morning smoothies for some time now.

With this new found awareness of straws, I went searching on the internet to see what other people are saying. I soon discovered that I am not the only one acknowledging our over reliance on single-use plastic items. Celebrities like Adrian Grenier  and Jeff Bridges have recently added their voices to the call for us to refuse single-use plastic items.

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It seems that Americans use 500 million straws per day, this “could fill over 127 school buses each day, or more than 46,400 school buses every year!http://www.ecocycle.org/bestrawfree/faqs 

 

You don’t need to join a group, celebrity-led or not, as this refusal to use single-use plastic items is something we can do on our own accord. If you need some inspiration however, you could check out The Last Straw, a group based in Perth that ask us to ‘Sip. Don’t suck’.

Besides, sometimes groups with good intentions end up creating a whole lot more ‘rubbish’ that we don’t really need.

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Sorry to focus on SIDS fund-raising, but they are a perfect example. 

 

Finally, I’d like to tell you about a little girl who had high hopes for the future. That little girl was me. I remember as a child thinking that, while children could be unkind and thoughtless, adults were wise; they knew what to do when a problem arose.

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Here I am sitting in Auntie Myra’s backyard in Bendigo. I’m wondering if mum was taking a photo of the garden and then decided my red jumper would bring out the red in the flowers in the background. 

It didn’t take too many years for me to discover that grown-ups can be just as unkind and thoughtless as children. As an adult, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to tread lightly on the earth so that those who come after us know that we did what we could.

 

 


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Our garden, a thinly-veiled allegory

A thinly-veiled allegory. I have always liked this phrase, having first heard it mentioned in relation to a science fiction film I had seen, many years ago now. Peter and I have since related the phrase to all kinds of books, films and TV series, usually involving some kind of invasion or threat.

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Gareth Evans writes, “You might think it’s about a giant atomic-breathing monster stomping on things, but in fact it’s a thinly-veiled allegory about the Catholic Church’s intolerance of pre-marital sex.”

Today, as the title suggests, I am not talking about a film. After all, this is a post about the thinly-veiled allegorical nature of gardening. We are fortunate to have bought our house before housing prices went crazy. The house came with the traditional suburban 1/4 acre block. We had moved from a townhouse in Northcote and our new backyard looked like a parkland to us and we were inspired to make our own mark.

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We can’t believe we actually saved enough money to put down a deposit! 

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See what I mean, that backyard goes on forever! 

So where does the allegory exist? It all came about after we had purchased another tray of seedlings. We don’t usually plant over Winter but this year we thought we would live dangerously.

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Broad beans along the wire, kale in the front and broccoli over to the left. The tall red plant is a silverbeet gone rogue. 

A day after planting, the stem on one of the broad beans snapped in an unusually high wind. I felt a rising feeling of distress in my chest. All of a sudden, growing our own vegetables just seemed too hard. Why do we even bother etc.

I eventually settled down and asked myself, why the over-the-top reaction? I noticed that I had experienced this feeling before. It’s when I hear or read about the crises and tragedies occurring around the world. Sometimes it weighs too heavily on my shoulders and the only way I can cope is to block it out.

I thought back to our garden. We plant everything with hope that it will survive but we cannot control all of the elements that work together. Earwigs, snails, poor soil, not enough rain or too much sun. I realised that I had to stop worrying about the plants that didn’t survive and focus on those that did.

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This female pumpkin flower is growing a baby pumpkin. 

Then I thought about the world and all its troubles. Rather than close my heart as a protection against a seemingly cruel world, I need to stay connected, to not be distracted by what I perceive as being bad and wrong. Plants die and wars happen. This little lesson on our garden has reminded me that I am not as fragile as I sometimes feel. I have learnt about emotional resilience*.

*There is such a thing, I thought I’d made it up! “Emotional resilience simply refers to one’s ability to adapt to stressful, situations or crises.” https://www.imsa.edu

 

 

 


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The right to fly

When Anthony James told our sustainability class that he had decided not to fly anymore, we were left with no doubt regarding how committed he was to shrinking his ecological footprint. I learnt a great deal from these classes however it was this particular declaration that has stuck with me. I have since oscillated between admiring his resolve and, somewhat cynically, thinking ‘as if one person refusing to fly will make any difference’. Today I am going to consider a few facts and opinions on the topic – our right to fly.

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The ubiquitous ‘reaching your destination’ shot. Landing in LA, October 2012

In February this year I came across an article entitled, ‘How far can we get without flying?’ The tagline is ‘when a climate scientist decided to stop flying to cut his carbon emissions, he caught a glimpse of the post-oil future.’ It immediately reminded me of Anthony’s decision; my curiosity was aroused. The author of the article, Peter Kalmus, created a basic pie chart of his personal greenhouse gas emissions for 2010.

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I don’t think this was the actual pie chart however it certainly works for the magazine article. I always enjoy an accompanying visual. 

Kalmus introduces the term, cognitive dissonance – ‘the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.’ The first time I heard this phrase, it rang true to me, especially after I was introduced to the kinds of changes we humans would need to embrace if we really want to make a difference to our CO2 emissions. Most of us are aware of the impact that flying has on the planet. I have to admit I didn’t realise just how extreme the impact is.

An excerpt from Kalmus’ article:

Hour for hour, there’s no better way to warm the planet than to fly in a plane. If you fly coach from Los Angeles to Paris and back, you’ve just emitted 3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, 10 times what an average Kenyan emits in an entire year. Flying first class doubles these numbers.

However, the total climate impact of planes is likely two to three times greater than the impact from the CO2 emissions alone. This is because planes emit mono-nitrogen oxides into the upper troposphere, form contrails, and seed cirrus clouds with aerosols from fuel combustion. These three effects enhance warming in the short term.      

But even after being exposed to this kind of information, I feel unwilling to let go of what feels like ‘my right to fly’. The Big Overseas Trip, which once would have been something we aimed for at least once in our lives, has become, due to cheap airfares, something we now feel inclined to factor in every two years or so. And even after all the travel Peter and I have done, and the fact that flying is a significant drain on Peter’s wellbeing, we still toss around the notion of another trip to LA to see friends or a return trip to Barcelona, to see the Sagrada Familia, which was covered in scaffolding when we visited in 1985.

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If you really love your friends and family, you will make the effort to fly interstate or overseas to see them. 

Where does this version of cognitive dissonance leave me? Recently I thought that maybe if everyone was assigned a quota of kilometres they could use to travel by plane, we could still fly, but with a  substantial decrease in damage to the planet. It is unlikely that this will happen. Meanwhile, when the prospect of flying is in the air, we will seriously consider whether the flight is necessary or whether we can find some other way to satisfy the desire to travel. It took Kalmus ‘three years to quit’, so I figure that we still have a bit of wiggle room. To fly or not to fly, that is the question. What do you think?