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.
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 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?