Now Reading
How to Cope With Eco-Guilt

How to Cope With Eco-Guilt

This Earth Month, we invite you to join us in exploring the personal and global steps that can be taken together to protect our planet. Because, as we know, the Earth’s well-being directly impacts our own. Continue reading

Picture the scene: It’s Monday night and you’ve just made your weekly pilgrimage to the supermarket. You’ve made the journey on foot, picked up a handful of locally-sourced, in-season veggies, and are headed to the checkout when suddenly you realize you’ve forgotten your reusable tote. Again. Guiltily, you pack your groceries into a plastic bag, knowing that you’ve missed an opportunity to do less harm to the planet.

This is eco-guilt—the feeling you get when you could have done something to help the environment but didn’t, whether consciously or by accident. It can also creep up when you make environmentally damaging decisions such as forgetting to bring your KeepCup to Work, failing to compost, and flying overseas.

“We all know there’s so much more we could do to support the climate crisis if we had more time, money, and information,” says Pam Barbato, CEO of Action Net Zero. “This is why we experience eco-guilt. Even if we’re doing great things, we think it’s not enough because the climate crisis is a global crisis.”

Eco-guilt can actually motivate us to make some positive changes, but when it’s mixed with shame, it can have the opposite effect. “[Guilt] can make us become accountable for our actions and change our behavior in order to align with our values or universal moral standards,” says clinical psychologist Patapia Tzotzoli, CPsychol. “Shame, however, is a painful feeling because it leads people to believe that there is something wrong with them. It’s this feeling that leads to inaction.”

Fear-inducing climate crisis headlines are inescapable and with constant reminders that each of us needs to change our daily habits ASAP, you might find you’re chastising yourself for not doing things perfectly. So how can you nix eco-guilt, recognize the sustainable strides you’re already making, and embrace micro-habits that create a positive impact on our planet?

1. Know your carbon negatives

“Striking the balance between climate activism and trying to be perfect is all about knowing what your big carbon negatives are—whether that’s as an individual, a family, or in your place of work,” says Barbato.

It means making simple, effective changes to your daily life that will reduce your carbon footprint while also creating the greatest environmental impact. This could mean reducing your consumption of meat two days a semaine, taking public transit or biking to work, or turning down your heating.

Barbato says having a target can keep you on track—and may help you recognize just how much you’re already doing. “If we need to reduce carbon emissions in the world by half, then a good way to approach this would be to try and halve your own emissions,” she says. If you’re completely clueless about the size of your carbon footprint, the WWF calculator can help you work it out.

2. Embrace discomfort

You might also want to suppress guilt if you eat steak. Dr. Tzotzoli states that this will not help you or the planet. “By suppressing our discomfort, we end up giving more power to our emotions and as a result, this leads us to negative thoughts and unhelpful behavioral choices,” she says.

Dr. Tzotzoli recommends that you embrace your guilt and not push them away. “Being curious as to why we feel this way helps us learn valuable lessons and take appropriate actions that bring balance back into our world,” she says. Eco-guilt is a way to clarify your goals and help you do some emotional digging.

3. Establish a routine you can sustain

Climate activism isn’t all “go big or go home” and no, you don’t have to completely overhaul your lifestyle to have an impact. Experts agree that micro-habits are a great way to make a difference.

Even seemingly insignificant acts such as Turning off the lights in your home and ensuring your devices aren’t left on standby can go a long way to cutting your carbon footprint.

Make a mental note of some of the ways you’re already supporting the climate cause, and then find ways you can do more. Barbato recommends reducing single-use plastics and avoiding dairy and meat, as well as renting or repairing clothes to cut down on carbon emissions.

Next, share what you’re doing. Barbato states that sharing your environmental achievements is one of the best ways for eco-guilt to be eradicated. “It’s a reminder that you’re doing a lot more than you think,” she notes.

4. Allow for failure

No matter how committed you are to effecting change, you’re going to “slip up” at one point or another. Perfection is impossible. Allowing yourself to be human can be incredibly liberating.

“Allowing for some variability in your plan is important when you cannot follow through,” Dr. Tzotzoli says. “Giving yourself the flexibility to miss out on an action but returning to it soon after helps you avoid feeling ashamed and abandoning the objective entirely.”

Remember this: Progress isn’t always linear. It’s consistency that counts, so keep going.

5. You can measure your progress

Set a goal—and mark your accomplishments as you get closer to reaching it. “It’s important to set specific criteria to measure your progress,” says Dr. Tzotzoli, “as this can help you feel excited and enjoy a sense of achievement when you follow through on your plan.”

The more you meet those criteria, the more intrinsically motivated you’ll feel to keep up your efforts, which in turn will keep those feelings of eco-guilt at bay. Begin small, such as walking or driving to work one or two times a week or keeping reusable bags in the car trunk for shopping. Then reward yourself when you reach your goal.

Whether you’re a committed climate activist or someone who’s only starting to understand sustainability, it’s easy to obsess over every choice you make while failing to recognize the progress you’re already making. But if you’ve made it this far into the story, you clearly care about the planet—so don’t let eco-guilt stop you from taking action.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.