There are a lot of stories being put about right now about what it means to live responsibly. For the examples below, I’ve taken words from stories I have encountered. Nothing here has been made up.
There are people who will tell us that talk of the climate crisis is fearmongering, brainwashing and not to be believed. They ask what we are afraid will happen. I’ve taken to answering this by pointing at the things that are happening – the fires and floods, the tens of thousands who die from air pollution each year, what plastic does in the oceans, that it is in our bodies too, and so forth. Climate denial is a dangerous story that is going to kill a lot of people.
Then there are the people who say things like ‘you can’t possibly care about the environment if you eat chocolate.’ There are many variations, but the gist is that if you aren’t 100% carbon neutral and ethical in all things then you have no right to suggest anyone else try harder. Of course most of us who care can’t manage to do everything in economies that are set up so badly in the first place. It is good enough to do the best you can, and realistic to expect that you may be stumped by some things.
People who find an eco change easy to make can be unhelpfully intolerant of people not also making that change. This often comes wrapped in a lot of privilege. Of course everyone can go a year without buying new clothes? Well, maybe not if a medical crisis and dramatic weight gain/loss means you own nothing that fits. Of course everyone can give up plastic packaging! Except that’s really hard to do if you are living in poverty. Of course everyone can give up their car! Which may be totally unfeasible if you have serious disability and so forth. Humiliating people because their lack of privilege makes something hard for them really isn’t the way to go.
There’s the story that living lightly will mean ‘going back to the stone age’. As though our lifestyles are so gorgeous and glorious that it’s not worth giving anything up for the sake of not trashing the planet.
The idea that we can carry on in much the same way and just source things more greenly is a subtle and persuasive story. We can’t just switch over to electric cars – those require resources, too. We can’t just replace energy with renewable and keep consuming at the same rate. We can’t just replace plastic packaging with something else. We use too much, and we have to cut back, and any story that tells us otherwise is setting us up to fail.
There’s also the story that there is no point trying. My one change isn’t big enough to matter. My country is small, what does it matter if we aren’t onboard? This is utterly counterproductive and encourages everyone to do nothing as though it is someone else’s job to fix things.
We need a radical re-think, and we need stories about how to do that. How to change our lives. How to live lightly and want less and be happy. We need to fundamentally change what we do and how we do it – both individually and collectively and to do that, we have to build it as an idea and reject the stories that stop us from making real change.