How Do You Deal With Eco-Anxiety?

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For something a bit different today, let’s talk about eco-anxiety.

For those interested in green living it can be challenging at the best of times to have to keep your morale up.  There’s always a bad news story about climate change doing the rounds.  Sometimes there are good news stories but you really have to seek these out.  But the bad ones?  It seems like they fly right at you as soon as your switch on your computer. And sometimes it feels like although you’ve made some environmentally friendly changes in your life, that it’s just not enough. Eco-anxiety is a very real condition.

Sustainability & Nuance

It’s also tricky to keep your eco-anxiety in check when green living has so so many grey areas.  For example, is buying a fairtrade bag made from recycled materials in Guatemala better than buying a locally made bag made from non-recycled materials that have zero air miles?  Is criticising people who aren’t vegan or vegetarian ok when you holiday abroad three times a year?

Trying to find an absolute answer to the imponderable is nigh on impossible. It would drive you to a pit of despair if you contemplated them for too long.

No Perfect Way to Live Greenly

The truth is there is no perfect way to live greenly.  I firmly believe it simply is not humanly possible for a person to be 100% green in every single aspect of their life.

But if that’s the case then shouldn’t we just give up the quest, and just live our lives recklessly without any regard for the environment?  My answer is no – we keep trying to be as green as we can specific to our circumstances.  So how can you keep your eco-anxiety in check when you can’t be 100% green?

How I Keep My Eco-Anxiety In Check

Let me let you into my secret as to how I keep my eco-anxiety in check.

eco-anxiety, morale and green living

While I write here on Moral Fibres on a regular basis on green living, as much as I try to be upbeat and positive, it’s not all sunshine and roses.  I’ve always been upfront and honest about my struggles and challenges with green living.  One of my first posts in 2013 was about eco-perfectionism and why it’s counterproductive.  I’ve mentioned briefly my struggles with veganism on my about page and in the past about my struggles with avoiding palm oil.  So yes, I happily put my hands up and admit there are things that I don’t do so well at.

Think About The Things You Do Well At

At the same time, there are things that I think I do really well at, mostly because of certain privileges I possess.  Not perfectly by any means, but pretty well.  

Despite living semi-rurally (not through choice, we were completely priced out of city living) and having two kids, I have lived car-free for 10 years now.  I have been a long-term vegetarian for over 10 years, and I consider myself to be an eBay master at procuring secondhand clothes.   I am trying to clean my home as greenly as possible.  In short, I try my best. I also acknowledge that some of these activities aren’t accessible to everyone, so I would never berate someone who isn’t doing exactly as I’m doing.

And do you know what?  It certainly 100% improves my eco-anxiety when I know I can’t possibly be THE best at every single aspect of green living, but I can do MY best specific to MY individual circumstances.  That’s what keeps me going.  Knowing I’m doing what I can, and the fact that where and when I can do more, I will.

Of course, not everyone shares the same view. And I sometimes get emails from people who are disappointed in me when my best doesn’t match up to their own standards and values and circumstances and privileges.

The most recent one was from a vegan who was angry and disappointed because in my sidebar was a link to a post on how to test egg freshness to help reduce food waste.   She said I should be vegan and should be urging all readers to go vegan.  

Acknowledge Our Own Privileges and Barriers That Make Eco Actions Tricky or Easy

I explained that I have tried to go vegan in the past (most recently just last year) and really really struggled with it, both in terms of the cost of vegan products and the accessibility of vegan products where I live, which both act as a real barrier for me.

Instead, I explained that I have cut my dairy consumption where possible as a compromise.  She didn’t agree this was an acceptable compromise and did not acknowledge the privileges in her life that made it easy for her to be a vegan. Perhaps, to her, my actions might not be the best, but right now it’s my best specific to my circumstances.

Sometimes people get angry at me because some items I recommend don’t match up to their own personal purchasing criteria.  For example, if I’m wearing or recommending clothes that can’t be composted.  I personally don’t have the facility to compost clothes at home. And as far as I’m aware my local council doesn’t compost clothes. Therefore, it’s not something I factor into purchasing decisions.

Instead, I wash my clothes appropriately to help prolong their lifespan; repair where possible; donate or sell second-hand clothes when I’m done with them. Or, when they are too far gone, donate to charity in a bag marked as rags.  Almost all charity shops which sell clothing have an arrangement with a textile recycler, who buys any unsold items from them for recycling.  Maybe it’s not the best, but right now it’s my best according to my circumstances.

Constructive Criticism Vs. Criticism for Criticism’s Sake

I’m not against criticism when it’s constructive.  However, criticism for criticism’s sake serves no purpose other than to sap morale.  Who knows, maybe one day I’ll manage a successful transition to veganism.  Maybe one day I’ll successfully be able to compost my old clothes.  In the meantime, I’m not going to get too down about the things I’m not doing perfectly.

Not everyone has such thick skin though.  Not everyone believes that their best is, right now, the best.  For another person getting this kind of criticism may make them think they should stop doing what they are doing because they’re not good enough. When really they are doing a great job.  

Or for a blog reader reading these kinds of criticisms/comments it may, for example, stop them from trying to adopt more environmental behaviours because they feel like they’ll never get it right.

Spreading Morale & Keeping Eco-Anxiety In Check

So how can we spread morale amongst the green community and beyond, to help keep our collective eco-anxiety in check?  We could applaud and encourage people who are trying to do the right thing in the best way that they can.  We could tell them they’re doing a great job.  And where a person asks for help, we could offer constructive support and guidance where we can, but leave the negativity to the side.  

Telling people that they’re not doing enough, or that they’re not doing something correctly isn’t a great way to spread enthusiasm or morale. It simply engenders eco-anxiety. But surely someone trying to do something well is better than them doing nothing? As Anne-Marie Bonneau says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

So let’s champion the small baby steps.  Let’s celebrate our trials and errors in trying to find greener ways that work for each of us.  We’re all human after all!

What are your thoughts on eco-anxiety?  How do you keep yours in check?

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  1. Hi Wendy,
    I’ve just found your blog and wanted to say how refreshingly honest it is. I recently wrote a feature on my blog about the big fur debate highlighting the flaws in the arguement for buying fake fur. You’re so right to say that there’s no perfect answer to this amongst other green issues, but yes, we can just try our best. I buy the majority of my clothes from charity shops and send them back there once I’ve done with them. My daughter has become a recent convert too, which is great news as I know she will influence her girlfriends to this joyful and interesting resource.

    Thanks for a great read x

  2. Hello, this is a wonderful blog post. Thank you for not giving up and doing the best you can. I think this is the most important thing – to do the best we can is the circumstances we are living. We can change the world one person at a time, and we should start it from ourselves. We need more inspiring people to show us the way. Thank you again and best wishes, Agnieszka

  3. Brilliant blog post that makes me feel much better about my own failures to have a perfect green lifestyle. I wish sometimes I could do much more but I simply can’t afford to or it means giving up hobbies and things I’m passionate about. But I’m getting there. So far I’m mainly proud of myself for becoming vegetarian but it looks like vegan is a step too far for me sadly.

    This is certainly something I advocate on my eco blog, trying your best, doing what you can and accepting sometimes you can’t do everything and occasionally slipping up doesn’t mean giving up being greener altogether.

  4. What a great post. I found your blog a couple of months ago and have been reading avidly since. I think your sentiment is spot on. I really appreciate your honesty about the aspects you’ve struggled with and how you’ve come to compromises. It’s impossible to be 100% green all the time. In fact, if anything, I think that idea turns people away from ethical living. Trying our best and being accessible is, in my opinion, much more likely to result in more people making small steps in the right direction. I have certainly been inspired by your blog to continue on my green journey (and extend it in some areas). In part that is because of how honest, open, non preachy and approachable your blog is. So, thank you!

  5. This is exactly what me and my wife have been talking about recently. We want to make all the right choices from ethical and environmental points and we do our best to find out things (like signing up to Ethical Consumer). But sometimes even that doesn’t work and we subsequently find that that favourite company that we thought was green and ethical isn’t so great. It’s quite disheartening. But I’ve tried to also bear in mind that we can’t get away from the fact we live in the UK, in the 21st Century, and that comes with a lot of baggage you cannot change on a personal level (except in the power of democracy…hmmm) – I cannot change the fact that the buses in Guildford run once an hour, I can’t change the fact that coal is used in some power stations, I can’t change the fact that our part of town has very few if any greengrocers, and I can’t get away from the UK being a often cold and rainy place which puts strains on a greener lifestyle compared to living somewhere where you don’t need heating/clothes! It’s great to read the others’ responses here. We can make our own choices at our own level, try our best as you say, vote for or complain about things on a national and international level that we would like to be done better, and don’t beat ourselves up when we’re the ones actually trying :-)

  6. You’re so right. I love your blog and I love the motto ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ personally. Making any effort is better than making none! Glad to see you don’t let the criticism get you down.

  7. Really great honest post. I remember one of the first talks I gave on climate change for Climate Reality I tweeted how well it had gone at the local primary school. I was then trolled by some horrendous denier (he was horrendous for what he said to me, not his denial) and to be honest I have done very few talks since. It completely undermined my confidence so I moved away to far less public ways of trying to make a difference. I try every day to take the wider world into consideration for every decision but my goodness it ain’t easy. Not that I want life to be easy!! But I do think you are right that we need to celebrate every positive decision – apparently it’s one way of ensuring behaviour change. Doing anything out of guilt or negativity (your own or other people’s) won’t have long term impacts. My way of trying to keep up morale is by reminding myself as often as I can that there are loads of ‘us’ out there. Perhaps they aren’t in the mainstream media (the recent chat about haddock is one example), or even in your immediate social groups but we are there and there are more all the time. I firmly believe creating and improving community is the way to build our morale and our ability. And that community can be whomever and wherever you need it to be.

  8. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been fortunate to not receive a lot of unhelpful criticism to date, but I am very critical of myself, and I’m constantly worried that my occasional meat consumption or lack of a zero waste lifestyle will make people go after me.

    I agree with you that we MUST choose baby steps, and we must also allow for personal experience, gray area, and change. I no longer buy the idea that MY personal consumption choices will change the world. We need lots of people who aren’t afraid to make small changes, not a dozen people who are living the perfect life. Eventually, we’ll all get there together.

  9. I do love this post. Rather than pretending it’s possible to be perfect, I think it’s really important that people who promote green lifestyles admit that they can’t and don’t get things 100% right. The main reason I hear from people who don’t try as hard as they could is “What’s the point? It’s too hard to figure out how to get it right; it’s too hard to change everything all at once” – more voices need to say that baby steps are better than nothing.

    1. Thanks Sarah! I agree, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, although I do think terms like “zero waste” aren’t particularly helpful as they do imply an all or nothing approach, when even zero waste can be approached with baby steps.

  10. Having just had a child, this is just what I needed to hear – I was overwhelmed with how many gifts we were given that aren’t in line with my style of thoughtful living and shocked at the amount of disposable waste in hospital (where we stayed for 5 days – so we alone would have accumulated a lot). But, by accepting these gifts and giving into disposable waste, doesn’t mean that I have failed in life! I just need to continue making conscious, informed decisions where I can! Sorry you were criticised, there are always people who are negative. I absolutely love your blog!!

    1. Huge congratulations on your new arrival Rachel! Oh gosh, when I had my first child I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of stuff we were given. Possibly THE thing I struggle with most is around gifts, especially when you have kids and family and friends want to spoil them. It’s such a tricky area to navigate without offending/upsetting anyone. But yes, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed by any stretch – it sounds like you are doing a great job! And thanks so much for your nice words!

  11. I’m not sure veganism is the answer anymore, I’ve been vegetarian for 18 years and vegan on and off during that time. I now have M.E. and most of the stuff I’ve read about diet is that animal protein and calcium are really important to get better. I’ve reluctantly started to eat fish two or three times a week and have started consuming dairy again. In a perfect world I’d grow all my own veg and not consume animal products, but I’m too ill to do any gardening at my allotment. I think your blog is amazing for inspiring people to do their best, you are never preachy, and always open to debate.

    1. Sorry to hear about your M.E. Some of my friends suffer from it and it’s no walk in the park. You’ve got to do what works for you, and if dairy helps you to get better then go for it! And thanks so much for your kind words C, much appreciated!

  12. We all struggle with some aspects of being green, I am employed in this sector and struggle with vegetarianism and still have a car. It is a case of figuring out the alternative to find out the best way of being greener that will stick. I know a lot of people that work as Environmental Managers that don’t even think of cutting down meat and still fly whether for holidays or business – they justify this in many ways, none of which is really more than an excuse. So, I think you are doing a great job, and pointing out that some things like veganism are hard, but doing the next best thing is a brilliant thing to do. Keep up the good work as it is all baby steps.

    1. Yes, I have met many environmental managers and climate change experts that think nothing of flying for business halfway around the world at least once a month! Apparently it’s essential?! And thank you for your kind words!

  13. “It’s not the best, but right now it’s my best.”

    This is really important to remember. I know first hand (as a vegan) that people have a tendency to scrutinise you more than anyone else when you label yourself as vegan/minimalist/zero waste/etc. They criticise every little detail and call you out on tiny things you’re “doing wrong” even though there are many ways you have made changes to reduce your impact on the environment.

    If you slip up just once, you’re berated for it despite everything else you have done to change your lifestyle.

    I think we all have to do our best and recognise it’s not always going to be perfect; and not sugar coat it when we’re not trying as hard as we could be either. “It’s my best” is an easy excuse when we want a get out card for not pushing ourselves but it’s also a valid point when we are.

    1. Yes to all of this! I don’t understand the scrutiny and criticism that comes when you label yourself as something. I’ve often wondered if some people think that when you label yourself as zero-waste, for example, that you perceive yourself as superior to others who aren’t zero waste, and that causes the friction?

  14. Thanks so much for talking about this, and sorry that you have had to deal with criticism like that. I am in complete agreement that everyone should be doing what they can, and figuring out where their own goalposts are. Haranguing people like you who are doing such amazing work to get this issue into the mainstream is so counterproductive! Thanks again and keep doing what you’re doing!

    1. Oh, I’m fine with criticism when it’s constructive – it keeps me on my toes! It’s just when it’s plain criticism for criticism’s sake that I’m not really into. It’s not helpful for anyone. And exactly, everyone has their own goalposts, and everyone’s journey is going to look a bit different. And thanks for your lovely words Caroline!