Eco guilt: that feeling you get when you could have done something for the environment, but made a conscious decision not to.
We’re trying to save the planet.’ It sounds like the plot of a Sci-Fi movie, doesn’t it? Or the iconic line in an action film, spoken before a space-suit clad Ryan Gosling steps inside a rocket on a mission to stop a meteor. Instead, what we’re referring to is how we’re saving the planet one less takeaway coffee cup at a time, one less steak dinner, one less impulse purchase… Put simply, we’re doing our bit by doing a bit, but somehow it can feel useless if we aren’t doing it all.
While every climate crisis headline points to our own personal accountability, there’s a culture out there chastising people for not doing things perfectly, and with that comes the guilt of feeling like you aren’t doing enough.
Maybe your environmental dirty secret is that you love to take long haul flights but feel absolutely rotten about all those carbon emissions. Perhaps you’re more concerned that steak is always your favourite pick on the menu and even though you’ve recently learned how bad it is for the planet, you still want to eat it. Or maybe you feel pretty gross about your love of fast fashion. Nothing makes you happier than a new dress, no matter how many galloons of water you know it took to make it. Perhaps you’re a guilty greenie simply because you often make it to Tesco without your bag for life in tow. Whatever the source of your eco-unease, it’s that deep and wretched feeling that despite your best efforts you could be doing more.
Where has this case of the guilts come from? It could be that as we’re bombarded with information and have become more aware of the effect our behaviours are having on the planet, we’ve realised our own responsibility in trying to save it. The more we try to be good, the more we notice where we’re being bad. We’re also biologically programmed to feel guilty about just about everything.
Science says we’re neurologically hard-wired to experience feelings of guilt and shame as a means of survival. So yeah, there’s that.
But chances are you are trying and doing your best, whether your best is going full vegan or just committing to using your KeepCup every day, so how can you get on with it, without those pesky feelings of guilt weighing you down? Well you could do a Bella Hadid on it. The supermodel recently planted 600 trees to offset her carbon footprint, easing her guilt from the many flights she has to take for her job. Of course, that’s an option not open to most of us. But we can direct our positivity into other endeavours.
There are carbon offset schemes that allow you to calculate your carbon emissions, and offset an amount of them by donating money toward clean energy projects. You could also pick your battles by looking at one particular area you want to improve and focusing on perfecting that, whether it’s improving your recycling habits, eating less meat or ditching fast fashion. And finally, you could give yourself a great big pat on the back and recognise all the things you’re probably already doing. Like these…
Reckon your love for chipper chips couldn’t possibly have a positive effect on the planet? Well, if you’re prone to tucking into carbs more than you are animal-based foods, you’re eliminating a degree of environmental damage right there. We all know that when it comes to the most eco-friendly diet of all, plant-based is king, and in terms of emissions, meat production is one of the worst offenders, so if you’re more likely to order a big bowl of pasta and veggies instead of a T-bone steak, you’re going someway to minimising the damage. Research says even eating a carb-source like beans instead of a meat-based meal once a week can make a difference. Carbs to fight climate change? Now there’s a campaign we can get on board with.
If you’re partial to a quick shower rather than a bath you could be saving up to 30 gallons of water every time you wash. If you want to do one better, keep your shower at low pressure, and keep those full body scrub-defuzzing from the neck down/ live performance showers to a once a week treat.
Look, most of us aren’t flying to and from in private jets, are we? And the good news is, if you’re flying in economy, you’re doing a whole lot less eco damage than your business or first class counterparts. Economy is lower carbon simply because it maximises the number of passengers each flight can carry, so there’s one thing to to feel good about, right?
More and more people are choosing to have less children or to not procreate at all and that has a whooper impact on the environment. One fewer child per family can save an average of 58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year. While we wouldn’t ever suggest forgoing your life long dreams of becoming a parent to reduce your carbon footprint – if kids are something you see for yourself in the future – it’s good to know that if you aren’t planning on procreating, you’re doing the planet a great big favour.
Not just an Irish mammy stereotype, most of us are pretty savvy when it comes to making sure we haven’t left the house with the immersion on. Ditto switches, lights and water. Sure, it may only be because we don’t want a nasty bill at the end of the month, but every little helps. If you’ve done one better and invested in energy efficient appliances, then give yourself a big pat on the back.
Can’t remember the last time you printed a boarding pass before your flight, opting instead to use a digital version? Religiously read on Kindle, instead of buying the paperback? Jot things down in your Notes app, instead of grabbing pen and paper? That all adds up to a whopper eco impact. Well done you.
Bottom line, it’s about not being wasteful and we’ll wager that even if you haven’t earned the title of eco-warrior princess, you’re doing your bit in your own way. Going forward, it’s time to feel proud of what you are doing, not guilty for what you’re not.