It’s a new year, and time for new ventures
Issued: 15 Jan

What better time to think about new goals and actions for a better planet?

Queensland Chief Scientist Professor Hugh Possingham shared the small steps he takes every day to help look after the environment.

There are many small steps that each of us can take to help protect our biodiversity and ensure our flora and fauna can continue to thrive. As we use more and more land, habitat for animals is lost or degraded. As well, we are already seeing our climate changing so rapidly, and the impacts on us and nature continue to threaten our prosperity. The lives of our fellow species as well as our own are being impacted.

It is a new year and a great time to put in place some new plans for improvements.

Here are some of the small steps that I take. Which ones can you do?

Haloumi and eggplant being cooked on the BBQ

I love haloumi and eggplant on the BBQ

1.  Consider what I eat and how much

When possible, I try to buy seasonal, locally produced food. Growing food in-season usually means less chemicals and energy are used to fight nature, and locally grown food has travelled less, which means lower emissions during transport.

I like to try alternatives to meat and dairy. Unfortunately, foods that come from animals need more energy and more water to produce than most plant foods, and they generate more carbon dioxide and methane emissions. These emissions are contributing to making the planet warmer.

Aussies love our BBQs and meat, but exploring alternatives can have a positive impact. This ABC article has more details on why it’s important, as well as some ideas for cutting back like ‘Meat Free Mondays’. My favourite is haloumi and eggplant on the BBQ.

It is also a great opportunity to support Queensland businesses offering fresh produce as well as new plant-based ‘meat’ options as an alternative.

Professor Hugh Possingham walking to a meeting

Less cars the better – walking to meetings is a good thing!

2.  I try to travel less and walk more

Not only does it help with my fitness, but more walking and catching public transport helps to limit carbon pollution. It makes sense that the less cars on the road, the less emissions are being pumped into the air.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads has some information on how you can minimise your vehicle’s pollution when you do use a car – check out these links.

Walking is a great way of interacting with my family and friends as well as spotting birds and other wonderful wildlife while I’m out and about.

Rather than taking a car to business meetings, I like to train, bus or walk there. I especially like to meet at a café half way between us so that we can both walk and support local business at the same time. I am in favour of online meetings to save interstate trips. I also love to ride my bike, but I must admit I only do this on the weekend – but this is my New Year’s resolution – can I ride more during the week?

Professor Hugh Possingham riding his bike.

I’m planning to ride more in 2021

3.  Get to know your environment

Our communities are full of parks, creeks and reserves just waiting to be explored. I like to wander through local natural areas to experience the wildlife and flora that is often living under our noses. Exploring also helps me to stay in contact with my neighbours, and I get to meet likeminded people, as well as local conservation groups.

As an avid birdwatcher, I love getting into nature and heading to my nearest park to explore what’s on offer. It’s the perfect place to have a picnic with the family and have a small detox from our sometimes “over-connected” digital lives.

The more we know about our local environment, the better prepared we are to notice changes, spot pollution, and take appropriate steps, including helping when volunteers are called upon.

Our climate is also changing - we can expect hotter and more frequent hot days, harsher fire weather, and many other changes.

It’s good to be informed about your environment. You might like to check out the Queensland Future Climate portal, which features the Queensland Future Climate Dashboard to learn about climate change projections and impacts.

Great Egret and Royal Spoonbill

Great Egret and Royal Spoonbill – courtesy of Friends of Sherwood Arboretum Association

4.  Support a local environmental community group

Joining a community group is a great way to meet new people, learn more about our local areas, and help conserve our precious flora and fauna. Biodiversity isn’t something that only happens in exotic rainforests, or remote wilderness. It occurs all around us. Queensland is the most biologically diverse state in Australia with many species of plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world. And Australia is one of the world’s ten “megadiverse” countries. It is so important to protect unique species, and not only that, biodiversity also supports our wellbeing and even helps our economy (think ecotourism in places like the Great Barrier Reef).

There are plenty of community groups working hard and having fun together. There are groups that look after beaches, creeks and waterways, others that protect endangered animals as well as groups that focus on plants – native trees, orchids, revegetation groups – just to name a few.

There are also many groups that need volunteers or citizen scientists. I love to play a role in collecting or analysing data to help scientists in their research. You can learn about citizen science and find a project in your area by using the Australian Citizen Science Project Finder. You can also read my earlier blog about my interests in birdwatching and citizen science. I also like to help plant trees – as I know they offer food and shelter for animals of all kinds, and help to absorb greenhouse gases.

A basket containing juice, pineapple and bananas.

I try to think about what I am buying, the packaging and how much I really need

5.  Responsible shopping

When I’m at the shops, I try to buy products with minimal packaging. We have seen how easy it was to switch from plastic to reusable bags, and I have found that I can take that philosophy to the individual items that I purchase.

I think about where this packaging ends up – how it hurts our wildlife, infiltrates our soil and gets into our food and water supply.

I like to recycle and reuse as much as possible and I like those shops that encourage bringing in your own containers. I try to minimise my waste as we only have one planet, including doing my best to ensure fresh food is not binned.

I have found that making small changes like these has had a big impact on my outlook, and how I make other decisions in my life. The very non-conservation friendly riddle – Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time – sums up this thinking. We can all help the environment, one burger, one meeting, one picnic, and one grocery trip at a time.

If you are struggling to get motivated, or are looking for simple steps to help the environment, I recommend checking out the United Nations’ The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World – there are so many things listed that you can do to make an impact. Also look at the Department of Environment and Science’s website which lists actions you can do to tackle climate action.