An artist's impression of a person who has been reading lots of climate change news (Picture: Tina Tiller)

Say no to climate helplessness: 7 panic-free ways to start saving the planet

Because being paralysed by hopelessness and fear doesn’t help anyone, here are some ways you can actually make a change on climate, starting right now.

On The Spinoff recently, Catherine Woulfe wrote about experiencing feelings of helplessness brought on by terrifying predictions of climate breakdown in books like David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth.

While all the alarming facts are important to be aware of, it’s not much good if we all feel hopeless. As someone who has been on the emotional roller coaster of environmental advocacy for a while now, I’d like to offer some ideas of what we can all actually do – for our own sanity, and for the planet. Let’s get straight into it.

1. View climate change not as a calamity, but as an opportunity to design a better world

In Paul Hawken’s excellent bible of climate solutions ‘Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming’ he writes that we have an opportunity “to see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius.” Making this simple switch of perspective changes everything.

2. Join (or start) a group

There are dozens of environmental groups around the country- 350.org, Extinction Rebellion, Forest and Bird, Oil Free. Getting involved with any of these is a way to get engaged, lobby for change much more effectively than you can individually, and, just as importantly, discover a support network of like-minded people.

3. Reduce your own ecological impact as much as you can

This is a journey rather than an overnight transformation – allow yourself time to grow into it. The biggest things you can do are swap out meat for plants, and limit your air travel. These things don’t necessarily have to be sacrificial. A more plant-based diet is generally healthier for you (and very delicious). And instead of ticking off more countries, maybe take the opportunity to explore more of our own beautiful backyard; or give more time to family and friends. Further to these two biggies: Compost. Cut down on food waste. Cycle. Walk. Use electricity conscientiously. Fix what you can, buy less, and find businesses with values you align with. Don’t just consider if something is worth the dollars – think about whether it’s worth the planetary resources that went into making it. Beyond the smaller ecological impact, you’ll feel better by living true to your values.

4. Talk about what you’re doing in #3

It’s true that one person’s actions won’t solve the climate crisis – but don’t underestimate the power of social contagion. It’s been shown that we affect, and are affected by, people as far from us as our friends’ friends’ friends. Your actions don’t exist in isolation. So be as visible as you can about what you are doing, and your actions will be magnified exponentially. For example, it helps normalise plant-based diets. A recent study showed that half of the survey respondents who knew someone who had stopped flying due to climate change had been influenced to also fly less. Even simply carrying around your bike helmet subliminally reminds everyone who sees you that cycling is a transport option.

Youth strikers gather in Parliament Square in central London to protest against the government’s lack of action on the climate change. Photo: Getty Images.

5. Get politically active

Attend marches, sign petitions, write letters to politicians. Whatever irks you- do something about it. Tell your supermarket you want less plastic packaging. Tell your council to sort out its cycle lanes. Vote for governments with strong environmental policies (because what is a higher priority than having a liveable planet??). Jacinda recently stated that climate policies are difficult to implement because of the mixed public sentiments about them- So we need to let her know our support. You can imagine how much pressure she is getting from big businesses who profit out of lax environmental regulations. We need to speak up- if only to balance out the argument.

6. Divest

An outrageous amount of money continues to pump into fossil fuel exploration – and some of it is likely to be your hard-earned dollars. In NZ, the only banks that do not invest your money into fossil fuel companies are Kiwibank, TSB and The Co-operative Bank. Tell your bank to up its game, or switch banks. Equally, check where your KiwiSaver funds are going – there are ethical plans available, but you have to opt into them. If your business, school, local museum, sports team, etc either banks with or receives funding from fossil fuel-aligned companies, lobby them to cut ties.

7. Stay positive

As scary as the climate crisis is, hopelessness will get us nowhere. Solutions abound, visions exist for an amazing future, we just need to get excited about it and welcome everyone onto the bandwagon. Support each other, prioritise a kind and compassionate atmosphere, and stay joyful. As Niki Harré from the University of Auckland says, “Surely it is better not only to create a world more conducive to human thriving, but to create human thriving as we go?” There are a huge amount of clever and wonderful people working really hard on creating a better world. In whatever way you can, big or small. Join us.


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