We are making the change to solar power at last. It feels momentous, and a bit frightening, but a great relief, nevertheless. At last I feel I'm doing something reasonably significant to reduce my own personal carbon emissions, although it's hardly a radical decision to make anymore. Many of our neighbours have had solar power for a long while, and for all sorts of reasons besides concerns about climate change. So many people, in fact, are now going solar, that the government is starting to phase out the subsidies on solar panels, and the electricity companies are phasing out the feed in tariff. Of course.
Switching to solar power seems a bold and quite dramatic change to make to our lifestyle, although apart from the financial outlay and -hopefully not too many - teething problems, it's not going to hurt us. We are not sacrificing anything. We're not going to be giving up any comfortable habits or indulgencies. Our lives will not be poorer, or made more difficult, by this change. If anything, they'll be enhanced, because the electricity bills will go down.
Making the lasting changes to the habits and practices of my daily life which would reduce my own carbon footprint, is challenging, confronting, and hard. Here are just a few of these dilemmas:
1 I have to have a car, living in a remote location, in order to go to town to do my shopping, have medical appointments, see family, and so on. I have made a decision to limit these trips to one a week, in order to limit my fuel consumption, but this decision is frequently challenged. For example, one of the kids might call and ask for some babysitting help, in a week when I have already had my one trip to town. The idea that I'd refuse to do something for one of the family because it would exceed the fuel use I've allowed myself seems remote and ridiculous.
2. I want to go back to the U.K. for a trip. (It's nearly 10 years since the last one.) The temptations are many - to visit childhood places with my sister again; to do a tour of some of the great gardens that I've never seen; to simply soak up the atmosphere again, the moist air, the green-ness of everything, the deciduous trees, the old buildings, the stone walls. My heart aches for it all. Home! But taking an international flight, and being a tourist, has come to exemplify for me the excessive and unsustainable use of resources that is ruining our planet. I am making a slow and painful decision not to go again.
3. Using our farm to keep cattle for beef production has many positive benefits - it gives us extra income, provides us with employment in retirement, helps to feed the population, and contributes to keeping the open pasture in the Brindabella Valley that is part of its characteristic beauty. But those cows are continuously farting methane into the atmosphere. And we should be eating less beef. The whole world should be eating less beef, not more, because cattle need a lot more land to produce a lot less food. Making a decision to sell the cattle and plant some kind of crop instead sounds fine on paper. But energy, capital, and knowledge about crops are all in short supply.
Other, smaller, decisions seem like they should be easier to make. Consume less - easy, until the electric jug breaks down, and I need to buy another one. ( We used to use a saucepan to boil water, why not now?) Or,I go on a rare shopping trip with my sister, and buy two brand new tops to keep her company and because it's fun. (I probably have enough clothes, or the fabric to make them, to last the rest of my life, but I might start to look strange and embarrass the children.) Or, I buy books online from the Book Depository, because they're so cheap, and because I can almost always get the titles I want, and the postage is FREE! (but those books travel all the way from the U.K., and I could buy more second hand books, or go back to the library like I used to do quite happily decades ago.)
When there is absolutely no incentive to making a behaviour change, other than the satisfaction of knowing that you are upholding a principle, it is especially hard to bother with it consistently. Oh shit, I've left my shopping bags in the car! I say often, approaching the checkout - too late to go and get them, and what difference is it going to make?
This is the most difficult hurdle of all to overcome, that helpless, hopeless giving up, that so demoralising and convincing argument that nothing I do will make the slightest difference to the outcome for the planet anyway. My actions and decisions, or lack of them, are of less than negligible significance.
But I flog myself awake. There is strength in numbers; the more people who behave a certain way, the more likely it becomes that those people will bring about a change. As increasing numbers of people have chosen to get solar power, or to source their power from renewable energy, the industry has become stronger, the products have become cheaper, the idea has become mainstream. Momentum builds.
I've waited through several decades now for successive Australian governments to show some leadership on making the difficult and confronting decisions that have to be made in order to reduce our carbon emissions. Like responsible parents, they could have made us do the right things, even if we didn't like it. We were stopped from chucking litter out of our car windows by hefty fines. We had our profligate usage of plastic bags severely curtailed by making supermarkets start to charge for them.
But I've given up waiting. I've got to make the changes I think are right, and that I think other people ought to make, myself. I'm not going to save the planet, but my conscience might be a little easier at least.