In my latest book, Why Bother?, I wrote about how I had been dodging my desire to do more about the climate emergency. As someone who has followed the climate crisis since high school (yep, that long), I had gotten in the habit of throwing up my hands and giving up.
But not anymore.
I want to tell you the most important thing you can do today to be part of the solution:
Ditch your climate shame.
As Emma Marris writes in her excellent NYTimes article from last year,
“Step one: Ditch the shame. The first step is the key to all the rest. Yes, our daily lives are undoubtedly contributing to climate change. But that’s because the rich and powerful have constructed systems that make it nearly impossible to live lightly on the earth. Our economic systems require most adults to work, and many of us must commute to work in or to cities intentionally designed to favor the automobile. Unsustainable food, clothes and other goods remain cheaper than sustainable alternatives.
…It turns eco-saints against eco-sinners, who are really just fellow victims. It misleads us into thinking that we have agency only by dint of our consumption habits — that buying correctly is the only way we can fight climate change.
As long as we are competing for the title of “greener than thou,” or are paralyzed by shame, we aren’t fighting the powerful companies and governments that are the real problem. And that’s exactly the way they like it.”
I’ve been thinking about this very thing for years. I see people shame themselves for eating meat or shame someone else for forgetting their cloth shopping bag and I think “This is not helping.”
We are getting snared in believing the climate emergency is our individual fault, that if we had just used fewer plastic bags, we would have prevented this mess. And since we didn’t — or we did but look it didn’t work — why bother now?
As Mary Annaise Heglar writes, “When people come to me and confess their green sins, as if I were some sort of eco-nun, I want to tell them they are carrying the guilt of the oil and gas industry’s crimes. That the weight of our sickly planet is too much for any one person to shoulder. And that that blame paves the road to apathy, which can really seal our doom.”
We know shame is a toxic emotion. We’ve been reading Brene Brown for years. But have you considered how shame cripples you in regards to the climate crisis?
When we walk away from shame and blame (ourselves and others), we can more clearly see the complicated systems that profit from and actively lie about their impact on our fragile planet.
It’s not our personal choices don’t matter but we realize “…the more we focus on individual action and neglect systemic change, the more we’re just sweeping leaves on a windy day. So while personal actions can be meaningful starting points, they can also be dangerous stopping points” as Ms. Heglar adds.
I’ll be back next week with a list of organizations to get involved with, and some thoughts on handling any fear you might have about doing so.
It is important to eat less meat and dairy, to fly less, to decrease plastic use, and so many other amazing things you are doing – thank you! And we need to go beyond our personal choices to take collective action.
Shame paralyzes. Cynicism cripples. Despair kills. We can turn this crisis around. But we cannot do it solely through our individual choices. Here’s to our voices raised together.