Hello! Any Chance we Could Have a Chat About the Environment That Doesn’t Involve Guilt and Sacrifice? Could we Make it Fun and Exciting Please?
I recently joined a zero waste Facebook group. It’s a really friendly group and it’s been useful for picking up titbits of useful info about how I can improve my efforts with the environment. But I recently spotted a case of what I would describe as ‘guilt bullying’ and it really got me thinking.
There was a lady who asked for some advice about making her first steps towards living in a more environmentally friendly way. Her positive, gentle request was rewarded with yes, lots of advice, but also by a group member saying ‘but in the nicest possible way, you need to act now’. I just thought how unhelpful. Surely it’s better to celebrate the tentative steps of anyone wanting to join the environmental journey, not patronise, pressurise and belittle them.
The way I see it, it’s a precious balance. Yes this is hugely urgent and we, as a planet, do need to ‘act now’. But it’s not that easy to respond to a terrifying threat. As individuals we need to be coaxed and encouraged to do this, because change is hard and scary.
The fact is, we are human beings. We like nice things and comfort. We like rewards, holidays, somewhere nice to live, material things. Do we want to give those things up? Of course we don’t!
So is there any chance we could have more conversations about the environment that are positive, honest and humorous? I’m not diminishing the seriousness of what’s going on, but I just want us to make it easier for people to feel like they want to join in.
I had a great conversation with a friend recently. It was about some of the environmentally friendly hair products we were using that were actually a bit shit. My eco dry shampoo is nowhere near as good as when I was getting through an aerosol can a week of dry shampoo from Trevor Sorbie (it was brilliant – like hairspray and dry shampoo rolled into one). The environmentally friendly version leaves my hair flat and lacklustre. Not to mention the mess the powder makes all over my bedroom floor.
In my friend’s case she’s been using a soap bar which is now leaving her hair greasy. The fact is we want to look good. I don’t want buying environmental products to detrimentally affect my appearance! Getting dressed up and making myself look nice is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I think there is room to still be ambitious and want the good things in life as well as care about the environment.
And that’s where I think we’re missing a trick. Somewhere there’s got to be a middle ground. I think a lot of people are burying their heads in the sand about making environmental changes because it’s just too depressing to think about and more depressing on top of that to think about giving up so many enjoyable things in life. If people know the world is burning up, then why wouldn’t they want to have a nice time on the way out!? But can we entice more of the people who are in denial into the conversation by making it all a bit more appealing?
I don’t think starting to become more environmental has to be massively sacrificial. If we could get the whole population to be 10% more environmental, perhaps that would have more impact than 1% of the population being super vigilant and self sacrificing?
If everyone started to make a few unscary, easy changes – buying a bit less meat, taking a few less car journeys a month, switching to a renewable energy supplier, getting a reusable coffee cup, signing the odd petition etc Perhaps that would start to shift things? Not just because of the environmental impact but the cultural impact – informing bigger businesses and the government that as consumers and voters, that that’s what we want.
And if conversations about the environment were more positive and welcoming, more of the population might join in? I think a lot of people are frightened that if they join in these conversations they might get shamed and guilted and be expected to make a lot of sacrifices (I refer you back to the zero waste Facebook group conversation). But if one key aim is simply to get more people wanting to join the conversation, then perhaps we could move more mountains together?
I think it is about being compassionate to our fellow human beings and ourselves about change being threatening and scary for us all. If people aren’t joining the conversation and acting, it’s because it’s too difficult and scary. Fair enough. Life is hard as it is. How can we reach out positively and unite over this?
If you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them.
And this is a wonderful podcast from Radio 4’s Seriously… if you’re interested – taking the precise angle I’m talking about. Tom Heap the presenter is very environmentally conscious but drives an indulgently powerful petrol fuelled car because he just gets a kick out of it. So in this episode he sets off on a ‘guilt trip road trip’ to find out why people like him won’t give up the things they know are destroying the planet.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might like to read Fitting The Environment Into My Life.