I decided that it was time to face facts and go on a diet. I've decided this before, but I seem to be sticking to it this time. So far I've lost nearly 5 kilograms (11 pounds), and I feel prepared to keep on with a healthier way of eating and exercising for a year if that's what it takes to get to where I want to be. I've made the same decision before, but I've deluded myself. If I "cut back", I thought, I'll lose weight. If I don't buy that chocolate bar, I can still have dessert. I can have biscuits with my morning tea, if I don't nibble while I'm getting dinner. It didn't work. If I ate one, it was too tempting to have two, and the weight loss was so slow that it bored me. The truth is less palatable but in some ways easier. It's not a matter of "cutting back" a little, big changes are needed.
Lately I've been seeing the same sort of story in relation to another area. It's a comforting story, suitable for bedtime, because it won't disturb our sleep too much. It's about global warming. If we all cut back a little, it's suggested, we can do our bit to save the planet. Plan to do all your errands in one trip and save one car journey a week. Walk a few blocks if your journey is short. Put on an extra jersey before you turn the heating up. I can't help feeling this is going to be as successful as my earlier attempts at dieting. "Cutting back" just isn't enough. After all, petrol is expensive. I do all these things anyway, to save money. Whenever we have a winter where electricity is short, because our hydro lakes are at low levels, the same tired suggestions are trotted out - keep the lids on the pots when they are boiling, insulate your hot water cylinder, turn off the lights when you leave the room - and I think "don't they know we do all that already?"
The problem is self-interest. At least when I change my diet, I know that I will see the benefit of giving up chocolate. I give up chocolate (and other sweet, fatty foods) and I get thinner - even if everyone around me is still eating these things and still overweight. But what are the big changes I can make to prevent global warming? I could give up my car completely. Using public transport would cost me an extra hour or two in travel a day, and I would save little money (I know, I've calculated it). I could give up overseas travel. Others around me flit off for a weekend in Australia here and there - shopping in Sydney, or sun on the Gold Coast. I've looked forward all my life to one big trip to the UK, and it looks as if it will finally happen. I could refuse to go, but it won't change the number of flights the airlines make, if I'm the only one who makes the decision. I could sacrifice hugely for no overall benefit. I'm only likely to make changes in one of two circumstances: firstly, if I really believe that enough other people are making the same changes, and secondly (and more importantly) if I can see a short-term benefit for myself. If petrol was expensive enough, and public transport convenient enough, I might give up my car, for instance, to save money.
But it's not, so for the moment I do little. And I try and believe those comforting bedtime stories - to believe that when I walk a few blocks, or combine several errands in one trip, I really do make enough of a difference.
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