Thanks but no thanks

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Sometimes it's more about what you don't do. . . writes Kate Oktay. 

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay

To start off my year of being, if not a sustainable goddess exactly, then at least less of a wally, required some expert advice. When, to date, your zero-carbon ideals have mostly just resulted in complaining about the state of the world while eating hamburgers from fast-food chains normally associated with the problem side of the equation, it is hard to know where to begin.

First, I talked to Dr Cathy Cole, who used to advise the British Government on climate policy, and now lectures in science communication with a focus on climate change.

"How do I live more sustainably and stop contributing to climate change on a personal level?" I asked.

"A plant-based diet really would make an impact if we all did it," she said.

"But ... meat is so delicious ... ," I whispered.

I had tried it for January and never managed more than four days in a row before caving and buying a secret pie.

"I thought you weren’t eating meat," my colleague would say sweeping into the room, visibly pleased at my moral failing and consequent shame eating, while I looked sheepish, pastry sprinkled lightly around my person.

Then I talked to another friend, Andrea Egan, who works for the UN as a results specialist on climate change projects.

"Don’t talk about meat," I begged.

"I will do that another month. Or transport. Maybe later in the year I can start biking to work for a month," I said, unhappily contemplating a lengthy and lumbering wobble to arrive at the office unattractively florid and visibly damp to the touch.

"Well there is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’," Andrea said.

"Recycle isn’t an option really, usually we are just dumping it somewhere else. People forget the most powerful one is just refusing more stuff."

"Hmmm. Just saying no to stuff. That isn’t such a leap," I mused. My whole approach to parenting is based around just saying no. Just the words "Mum, can I ..." hang in the air, and my first reaction is to whoop a triumphant, "No!".

No to a fluffy unicorn the size of a real life horse.

No to an ice cream for an imaginary friend.

No to having a baby goat living in our backyard.

I have had so much valuable practice! This was something doable I could start with. I’m not a big shopper anyway, now I can pretend that it is part of an ethical consumer decision. How wonderfully convenient, a sustainable option that isn’t too distant from my usual personal choices. Like those lucky vegetarians who just don’t really like the taste of meat. It’s not laziness preventing me from buying a new top when my old one has a hole in it, it is a brave moral choice.

"Thank goodness," I thought.

"An easy slide into the first couple of months before the real changes that will impact on my happy life of sloth and gluttony."

And I said no a lot. It was made easier because my house is already packed with rubbish my husband bought for a dollar online. Do I need a new chair? No! I have 17, all in urgent need of reupholstering, in the garage.

It was freeing though, going into cavernous, neon-lit "everything shops" for a single pen and walking out with a single pen. Instead of a pen, a recipe book on Moroccan cooking, a new pair of sandals for the child, a soap dispenser that will stop dispensing after two weeks of use, a sketch pad, a kentrosaurus because the stegosaurus is lonely, a T-shirt that was $2, and an inflatable pool I know will slowly deflate on the lawn over the next fortnight.

Stuff you buy because it is shiny, and right there, and it is amazingly, incredibly, undeniably cheap. Stuff that you take home, and it doesn’t work properly, or it breaks, or you can’t fit any more stuff in your house, and because you didn’t really care about it anyway you take it to the Sallies or give it away to friends to make room for more buying and throwing and buying.

Just saying no to stuff made unsustainably, from unsustainable materials, and shipped from thousands of miles to be binned a couple of months later not only made me feel better about my environmental choices, it made my life better generally. I had more money, and time, and room to just buy the things that I really needed and liked.

Just saying no is not only something to be applied to your 5-year-old’s requests to wear novelty clothing to a wedding, it is for your mental-as choices too. And really, a child wanting to wear a dinosaur tail and butterfly wings to a formal event is probably more rational than paying money to fill your house up with planet-ruining junk that you throw out again six months later.

Just saying no is something I will keep doing. My house is less crazy and I have more money for the aforementioned gluttony. Recommend.




That's good at the micro level. There is a theory that stalling climate change would require imposition, a suspension of democracy, due to the "You can't tell me what to do" response. A few years of complete ban on jet aircraft would clear things considerably. While of course this is extreme, business as usual is not a goer.

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