David Mills
David Mills

This gym habit is what’s wrong with the world right now

I'VE seen some disturbing sights in gym changing rooms over the years.

But the most depressing is one I see with increasing regularity these days is guys wrapped in towels, fresh out of the shower, using hair dryers - not on their locks, but on their bodies.

It happens more often than you might think. Young dudes and old geezers alike.

They stand there, gormlessly waving that little blast of hot air over their precious skin, while the towel does nothing but protect their modesty.

It's depressing and enraging in equal measure. I feel like going up to these guys, flicking off the power and giving them the verbal equivalent of a quick clip upside the head.

"Dude!" I cry to them in my assertive action fantasy, "don't you know there's a war on? Have you never heard of climate change?!"

But of course I don't do that, because adults don't get to tell other adults what to do.

A common sight at the gym these days: the hair-dryer body-dry. Picture: Adrian Fowler Instagram: @adrian__fowler
A common sight at the gym these days: the hair-dryer body-dry. Picture: Adrian Fowler Instagram: @adrian__fowler

I get a bit sad thinking how electricity must get wasted like that in a million ways all over the world, at every minute of the day, and how not everybody's on the same page about reducing energy consumption, and it's going to be very hard to get everyone to do their bit for the environment, and we will probably fail, and the climate problem will worsen, and the planet will continue to heat up, and species will die off, and human life will get very difficult in all kinds of ways, and we will lose so much that we currently hold dear.

And on and on it goes.

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In their hectoring way, climate change laggards among us love to point out that Australia's total contributions to carbon emissions tally some 1.5 per cent of the global total. Therefore, they say, any action on our part to lessen our share would be so ineffective it's not even worth trying.

If you think that way about the totality of our country's carbon emissions, I guess you're hardly likely to care about one guy at a gym using a hair dryer on his body for a few minutes when the lazy git could just as easily use a towel.

And yet. We're talking about the planet; we're talking about everything we know. It's hard to understand someone being so casual about it.

For years, governments, scientists and the media have been advising us of little things we can do to "save the planet", as if those little efforts could. Reduce, re-use, recycle, they have said. Take the bus or walk. Don't buy things that are packaged in plastic. Cut down on food waste.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg has stopped flying because the aviation industry is responsible for 12 per cent of CO2 emissions from all forms of transports. Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg has stopped flying because the aviation industry is responsible for 12 per cent of CO2 emissions from all forms of transports. Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty

But what is the point of making those little efforts, if all that good work can be undone by others? Why should we make an effort to reduce our carbon footprint if others simply increase theirs? Where's the incentive?

For some of us, these questions have quietly niggled away for years, but others are simply fed up with the people who are too stubborn or stupid to change their ways, and they're turning to climate shaming, with food and flights their biggest targets.

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The militant vegans have spearheaded the food fight, with their ever-more-shrill insistence that we all adopt a plant-based diet for the good of the planet.

Flights have emerged more recently as a point of contention, with teen activist Greta Thunberg and naturalist David Attenborough among those who have called upon flyers to rethink their travel plans. (Thunberg is putting her words into practice by sailing from Europe to New York to attend a UN climate summit.)

The Duchess of Sussex is one of the highest profile celebrities to be flight-shamed after she and Prince Harry revealed they were limiting themselves to a maximum of two children for environmental reasons, and decried the use of plastic packaging at supermarkets. Her critics leapt on the fact that she flew to New York via private jet for her baby shower as evidence that she was the worst kind of climate hypocrite.

Whatever its merits, there are signs "flight shaming" is having some effect, with a rise in airline customers paying for the carbon-crediting of their flights.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been hailed for taking a stand on environmental issues — and also accused of being hypocrites. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/via AP
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been hailed for taking a stand on environmental issues — and also accused of being hypocrites. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/via AP

In Sweden (Thunberg's home country), rail bookings are reportedly booming and air passenger numbers are declining. The trend is pronounced enough for Qantas boss Alan Joyce to call it out in a recent speech, telling an aviation summit in Sydney "We don't want to go back to the 1920s and not have air ­travel".

Indeed. Australia would be a prison without it.

It's one thing to say everyone should avoid flying when you live in a city like Stockholm - where a multitude of other destinations can be reached by eco-friendly means within hours. It's a very different proposition in Australia, which is remote from everything, massive, and (for the most part) sparsely populated.

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That's our context, and context is too easily overlooked in the rush to climate-shame.

The International Panel on Climate Change was careful of this pitfall in their recent report on land use. They resisted calling for everyone to adopt a vegetarian diet, pointing out that for many people in the developing world, meat remains their only accessible and reliable source of protein. Telling them to ditch meat was just never going to be practical.

So context still counts, making climate shaming a fraught undertaking.

Still, there are behaviours that should be called out when we see them. Meghan and Harry should back up their wokeful words with carbon-conscious actions. Airline passengers should pay for carbon offsets when they fly.

And those guys at my gym? They should put down the hair-dryers and learn to use a towel. The planet can use all the help it can get.

David Mills is a journalist with News Corp. @DavidMills1972