a change in time

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


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.


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.


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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 11.41.45 am

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?




The dandelion in the garden

There appears to be two main schools of thought on what to do with dandelions – spend your entire life trying to remove them from your lawn and garden, or appreciate their nutritional and medicinal value by including them in your diet. I have been in the former camp for pretty much all of my gardening life however in recent years I have gained an interest in learning about these plants we call weeds. Most recently I bought a book to help me in my quest:


Kelly, one of the other participants in the Community Leadership in Sustainability (CLS) program, brought them along to sell. I purchased 2 copies – one for us and one for our son, Louis. 

It sat on the pile of books next to our bed for a few weeks, and was then overtaken by other newer, supposedly more interesting books, until it was relegated to the book shelf in the guest room.

Don’t despair, my foraging friends, Facebook came to the rescue! One of my favourite Facebook groups is called ‘Edible weeds and other useful survival information’. Yesterday after I finished watering the garden and pulling out a few weeds (heretic!) I thought I’d see what the FB world is sharing. That’s when I saw this post:


I was horrified – they looked exactly like the ones I had just removed from our side path!


I can’t show you a ‘before’ because I was in the mindset of, ‘better remove those weeds from the side path’ and didn’t think to take a photo – why would you? 

It wasn’t too late to save the recently removed weeds from the compost.


I feel guilty just looking at this photo, to think I was going to leave them to die in the 40 degree heat! I’d like to think they would prefer their qualities were used more purposefully. 

I followed the recipe provided and was pretty happy with the result. I was due to attend a Banyule CLS group that evening. Now if I wanted the perfect group of people that would be willing to be guinea pigs for my first efforts at preparing weeds for consumption, this would have to be it! And they did not disappoint.


There wasn’t quite enough to share between 26 people however the brave ones were happy just to have a taste and, to my delight, some were even inspired to give it a go themselves!  

Ian McBurney was the guest presenter last night. He bravely took on the topic, ‘Leadership and Change in a Changing World’ and somehow managed to make it interesting and relevant and even doable. One of the things that hit me was his assertion that we are already all connected and, even if we don’t know it, we are influencing each other all of the time. I was seeing this being acted out in my relationship to dandelions. I had been influenced by Kelly’s book, and Alexander’s post and, by taking the prepared dandelions along last night, the influence is spread wider.

Changing behaviour is not easy, at least for me, even with all of the knowledge I have accumulated about why and how. Every time I do make a change, even to the smallest of my habits, I feel secretly thrilled that it is possible, and I wonder what change I will take on next, and know that there are people all over the world making changes, big and small, and it’s nice to be part of this little revolution.



washing day blues… and whites and yellows

I love washing clothes. Actually, it’s not so much the washing, it’s more the ‘hanging it out on the line and then bringing in the basket of fresh smelling garments’ that I love. One day I asked myself, why does it make you feel so happy? In reply to this probing question, I was a little surprised to discover that, instead of a thought, an image popped into my mind.

It was of a young woman, circa 1960, hanging clothes out on the line, smiling at the sensation of showing how much she cared for her young family.

I recently had the opportunity to look back through some Women’s Weekly magazines from the 60s and while I didn’t find that classic image of the proud mother, I did locate two advertisements that were cut from the same cloth. The first one advertises a new washing machine:

washerThe ‘copy’ used is revealing. Lines like “why put up with the drudgery of twin tubs when with the Westinghouse Dialamatic your hands need never touch water!” Now that is an incredibly convincing reason to purchase this shining machine, for sure!

The advertisement for the dryer, on the facing page, follows a similar theme:


Clothes lines are so, yesterday. Did you know that, more and more women are learning that drying washing in the Westinghouse Automatic dryer is better in every way? And, that it leaves your washing ‘soft, sweet smelling and crease-free’?

I was four years old when these advertisements graced women’s magazines, however my mother would have been the targeted demographic – a young woman in her early thirties, hanging out the washing, caring for her family of three children, due to give birth to her fourth in two months.

In ‘Response Ability’, one of the texts on our book list, the author, Frank Fisher, comments on a similar kind of advertisement, one for mobile phones. He notes that “concern for the safety of our teenage daughters and mothers sells mobile phones… Advertising such as this manipulates fears and therefore demeans the real concerns we have for each other. It corrupts one of the most powerful and human of all our values: care.

I have reflected on this observation ever since and I am suspicious that my ‘love’ of clean clothes and sheets, which felt so much as if it represented how much I care for my family, is more precisely a manipulation of that feeling. While I still enjoy the feel of freshly washed clothes, I now make choices, so that my caring includes caring for the planet. Do I really need to use hot water and scented detergents? Do I need to wash as often? Can I resist collecting up all of our son’s ‘dirty’ clothing, transforming it into sweet smelling, crease-free items in order to express how much I care?

I’m pretty sure my family know how much I love them, and if I asked them, they would tell me that I don’t need to prove it with a pile of neat washing at the end of the bed.

Ruth Williams September 2014