How long is your shower?

The cognitive dissonance associated with environmental (in)action.

Image by Tyron Butson

With the upcoming Climate Crisis National Day of Action, pessimists, couch-dwellers and pseudo-intellectuals will seek to undermine the value of protests and their pledge to stir solidarity and incite change. Unprecedented crowds of people of all ages, professions and ethnicities are encouraging, but are barely acknowledged by the government. Given that fact, the question must be, what can we do?” Not, “how can we incite the government to do something?”

The issue at hand then becomes what ecocritic Richard Kerridge describes as ‘splitting,’ which is a process of “intellectualisation that separates abstract awareness of the crisis from real emotional engagement.” That is, we understand that the climate is changing and we protest because of this awareness but what happens when we go home, when we aren’t surrounded and inspired by a plethora of other like-minded people? Climate change itself is such an abstract and complex issue that it can become mind-boggling and overwhelming to assess the links between our everyday lives and our footprint on the world. Therefore, just as we are inspired by others, others can also become the reason for helplessness in the face of such an omnipresent issue. 

Writer and environmental activist George Monbiot terms our visual relationship with the world as “selective blindness,” which occurs “when your brain quickly identifies what it considers to be the most significant aspects of your surroundings, and focuses almost all of its attention on these elements.” Stark images of cracked earth, ghoulish animals floundering on stilt-like legs and dust storms sprinting through bare lands have been cycling on news feeds and media outlets for years. Frequent water restrictions and reportage on rapidly falling dam levels are distressing and engaging. I hate seeing the wilting of my plants and burnt grass, which used to be a haven for walking barefoot through on dewy mornings but why should I shorten my shower if the guy across the road cleans out his truck every day with a hose?

In my life, water wastage is the most obvious manifestation of Kerridge’s ‘split.’ Our next-door neighbour once told my mum, “your boys have such long showers. I would have thought the younger generation would be more aware of these things.” My mum is also a stickler for short showers and consistently condemns me for their length. She correlates my age to the degree of my environmental responsibility. She gushes at the shortness of her showers (always below three minutes) and has enforced a rule where buckets must be placed under the showerhead to gather water for the garden while it reaches the desirable water temperature. Yet, on hot days and on occasions when we can’t be bothered to walk my dog, she turns on the hose and drenches Leuca for close to ten minutes as he frolics under the liquid umbrella. I try to ignore this wastage by marvelling at the minuscule rainbows that appear between droplets. When I attempt to reveal her hypocrisy, she scoffs and tells me that it is in the best interests of Leuca, that we love him and therefore, it is our responsibility to make sure he is active. We have also been discussing digging a hole in the back of the garden for compost but mum can’t do this because of a crippling tennis elbow; dad prefers lawn-mowing and smoothie-shopping for his weekend chores. She has been asking him for weeks to help her but every weekend there is another task that needs to be completed. The conflict between this desire to affect a change and it actually happening arises not from our own passivity. It arises from the inability of others to understand and relate to them.

We seek attachments (dogs, long showers, smoothies) in order to stabilise ourselves but is it these attachments that are destabilising the world around us?