The coronavirus pandemic is demonstrating how important our individual behaviours can be, when viewed at a whole-of-society level.
The ABC recently publicised modelling that showed if Australians were 80% compliant with social distancing measures, we’d successfully flatten the curve (slowing the infection rate of coronavirus to ensure our hospitals don’t become overwhelmed by the influx of new patients). However, if just 10% fewer Australians changed their behaviour and failed to comply with social distancing, there would have been almost no discernible change in the exponential rate of infection, and our health system would have been overwhelmed.
In the past fortnight, as a result of the Australian community’s overwhelming compliance with lockdown measures, to protect ourselves and to protect our more vulnerable citizens, the curve has flattened. The rate of infection has slowed dramatically. It appears we’ve been spared, at least for now, from the worse fates of Italy, Spain and the US.
In the community’s radical and rapid response to coronavirus, we’ve seen a powerful example of wide-scale behaviour change and its effects.
Our ability to successfully tackle climate change is similar to our ability to effectively tackle this pandemic: we need to change our behaviour en masse, as a community, in order to successfully reduce carbon emissions.
But unlike the really difficult social isolation measures we are all nobly adhering to now, the behavioural changes we need to adopt to reduce our personal carbon footprints happen to be really good for our wellbeing. Cycling and walking, eating a plant rich diet, growing veggies, sharing our existing resources with our friends and neighbours, mindfully consuming what we need and caring for our possessions to minimise waste, all of these practices make us happier and healthier.
We also don’t need top-down police-state laws in order for a majority of us to start practicing these behaviours either. It is within my power, and within yours, to focus on what we can control with regard to the climate crisis. We can choose to take small, progressive steps in our own lives to reduce our environmental impact. Our behaviour has a flow-on effect and will influence others to do the same. And even better, we can start making a lot of these changes right now, while we’re spending most of our time in our homes during lockdown.
Why your personal carbon footprint matters
We each, on average, create about 20 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. This needs to come down to as close to 0 tonnes a year as possible. If we each get ourselves down to 2 tonnes a year, the rest we can offset effectively. This is consistent with the United Nations’ stated goal to get everyone down to an annual 2 tonne personal carbon footprint before 2050.
When you make a small change, it usually won’t feel like much as an individual. But if you look at the actions of the whole group, rather than viewing your own actions in isolation, it becomes clear that by acting together, our impact can be very big and very rapid.
If 50,000 of us reduced our personal carbon footprints by just a quarter over the next 12 months, that saves a whopping 250,000 tonnes of carbon emissions (taking an average of 20 tonnes of CO2e a year as a baseline). That’s the same saving you get from planting 4 million tree seedlings, or from taking 54,000 cars off the road or from running 54 wind turbines instead of using fossil fuel energy for a year.
Our free app makes these behaviour changes easy, social and rewarding
We've recently released a mobile application to help you do this. It’s a bit like DuoLingo for your carbon footprint. The app offers behavioural-science backed programs, with activities broken down into tiny steps. It’ll be available to download on iOS and Android from 6 May 2020.
We know that an information-only approach doesn’t work. Behavioural science shows that in order to voluntarily change a behaviour, it has to be low-friction: easy and rewarding, and built into our existing routines in a way that is convenient. Many of us already vaguely know what we should be doing to be kinder to the environment, but there’s a huge amount of diffuse information out there, it’s not particularly well-suited to our personal circumstances, and many of us struggle with information overload and decision-making fatigue.
Breaking behaviour down into small actionable steps is fundamental to successfully adopt greener habits. People just want to know exactly what to do in simple terms to have the biggest impact. It helps to receive support, coaching and encouragement so that carrying out the right actions starts to feel very achievable. Our app programs address these needs. The app teaches you sustainability skills that will help you reduce your impact on the environment and systematically reduce your carbon footprint in ways that complement your lifestyle. The tailored modules in the app cover your purchasing habits, food choices, waste reduction, energy usage and transportation.
We’re really excited to share the app with you and to support you to start taking small, achievable steps to reduce your impact on the environment. If we can each shift our footprints down from 20 tonnes to 2 tonnes, by completing the programs in our app, we’ll be able to put a big dent in our collective carbon emissions.
We will also be offering a free 6-week sustainability program to support you to start your sustainability program during lockdown. This program will be kicking off on 11 May.