Climate shame

Climate shame

My teenager came home the other day and told me she had been to a café in the city and had asked for a straw for her drink. The girl behind the counter tried to persuade her not to use a straw. When my kid persisted, the girl got angry at her and said: but what about the turtles? You are killing the turtles when you use a straw!

Wow.

I mean:

WOW.

Until now I have never written about climate change. Pretty consciously actually, as I feel this is an incredibly daunting and complex topic of which I still know too little. I also feel it’s a bit of a mine field to write about. It feels like if I write even one word that’s considered to be wrong in today’s public opinion, I will be publicly shamed. I find this an interesting observation inside myself: apparently the way I notice people communicate about climate change makes me feel a bit afraid and shamed already from the get-go. But when my teenager comes home telling me she is shamed by people in a café about a choice she makes, then I feel something shift inside me and the urge to write appears.

I have not taken the time to actively deep-dive into information about climate change up until now. However, I have worked for an international energy company that’s heavily involved in this issue and of course also read and seen a lot of information that has appeared in newspapers and social media over the past years. Based on what I have understood I am fully convinced that the future of this earth is a nightmare-scenario if we don’t actively make substantial changes that have real impact and we can’t put these off any longer. So far, I still feel safe. But here goes:

I seriously doubt however if the way many people are addressing the climate change-issue will bring about the substantial changes that our earth so desperately needs.

(just took a deep breath). There, I wrote it. Shame attack going on right here inside myself! OMG how active it is. It goes like this in my head right now: how dare you write this? You just wrote that you have not actively engaged yourself in learning more about climate change besides that which has come onto your path via work and media. How dare you then voice this opinion about other people and their actions? Anyway.

It has become an official word in some languages: fly-shame (the shame one can feel about traveling by plane). I find this very interesting: shame apparently is something we collectively ought to feel in order to bring about change towards a sustainable world. The girl behind the counter at the café tried to shame my daughter by linking her wanting to use a plastic straw to a turtle dying. But what does she base this information upon, that our collective use of plastic straws is killing turtles and so if we ban plastic straws from the face of the earth, we are saving turtles? Yes, our use of plastic is a serious problem that we need to face, among many other issues such as for example our consumption of meat, our flying, etc. I fully agree. But what has made plastic straws such a hot potato that makes people shame each other in the way my daughter was shamed in the café? Eight million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year and straws comprise 0.025% of that, according to an article in National Geographic. How about we stop shaming each other for the use of plastic straws and direct that energy and focus on waste management instead?

I feel many people spend a lot of time and energy on actions that, according to me, have more of a symbolic nature than bring about substantial change. It seems that it can become a way of living almost: engaging in symbolic actions (and also showing this frequently via social media) in order to show…. what exactly? I often wonder what’s the energy behind this behavior and I can’t help but feel that many people consciously or subconsciously engage in the shaming of other people for their choices or actions. This just doesn’t sit right with me.

I was invited to a global prayer for Australia the other day. I chose not to participate and at the same time I perceived the communication around this prayer in a way that I couldn’t help but notice shame inside myself for actively choosing not to spend just these few minutes of my time praying for Australia. But it’s my truth: I do not believe that us collectively praying for Australia will change anything about the massive and hugely destructive fires over there. I just don’t. In the same way I don’t believe that only focusing on the use or non-use of specific products will get us where we need to be. And how about this one: someone I know spent time on an airplane with people who were flying to a country in order to walk the beaches there to collect waste. I’m all for collecting waste on beaches but if it requires you to fly somewhere, isn’t the point kind of gone? I wonder how much time you would have to spend on a beach in a foreign country collecting waste before you have neutralized your own imprint of flying there to begin with.

I believe every one of us can contribute to substantial change without adding shame in the mix. I think it’s wonderful that so many people are engaged in wanting to bring about change and I really believe that all of us can make active choices to contribute to sustainable living on earth. But if flying for example is a necessity for some people (for whatever reason that feels valid for them), why can’t we let them travel by plane without shaming them for it?

I wish more people would consider for a moment if their choices will bring about large-scale change that will have a real impact, or if they are more of a symbolic nature (and make you feel better about yourself).

So, what is it that brings about large-scale change that will have a real positive impact? There are many people (in governments, companies or movements for example) who present many different solutions. I think it’s up to every one of us to seek out what you believe has an impact on a scale that you feel the earth needs, do proper research and be honest and real about the reasons behind your choices.

So far, I have come up with the following:

-I support cleantech companies. There is a lot of cool new technology on its way to, on a large scale, address different climate challenges. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, there are so many great minds at work today and I believe we haven’t even seen the beginning of it.
-Through voting I want to support people in government whom I believe can be forces of change. Interestingly enough I often draw the conclusion that environmental parties are not the ones I want to vote for, but that’s another story. I wish I could cast a vote in the US so mine could be one more vote to remove Trump from power. Check out Pete Buttigieg’s plans to fight climate change; that man inspires me!
-I will keep on flying. As my family lives abroad, I want to travel to them without feeling shame. However, flying for business meetings that just as well can happen online is something I don’t want to do anymore.
-I have drastically reduced my meat consumption.
-I drive an electric car. (but to be honest: I also drive this car because it’s the coolest car ever made and it makes me incredibly happy every time I drive it)
-I will invest in trees as I really believe in supporting nature to restore itself.

And finally: I am proud to have raised two teenagers who can withstand being shamed in a café and continue to walk their path in life according to what feels true for them. This earth is a better place with them on it.

Photo: Melissa Bradley – unsplash.com



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