I’ve struggled with climate guilt for many decades. Climate guilt is something you’ve never heard of. It’s right up there alongside mother guilt for feeling like I’m not doing enough or that everyone else is doing it better than me.
Last week, however, I made a breakthrough in my fight against eco-guilt. It was made possible by Livia Firth who is the founder and creative director at EcoAge (and also Mrs Colin Firth). She said that respect is the closest thing to sustainability for me. If you show respect for the people who make your clothes, then you already have an advantage in sustainable fashion.
Living sustainably has felt like a spiraling of self-recrimination. I feel guilty for ordering steak instead the vegan option at a restaurant night out, for buying 11 runners from a unknown source instead of a pair made of recycled materials for 150, and for using disposable nappies to knit my children’s nappies instead of making my own. We were told diesel was better for our environment, but then we were told that diesel is more dangerous than the petrol engine you traded in. I mean, I havent even switched to an electric car or a mooncup yet.
The eco-guilt is never ending. Every decision is heavy. From the small, should I buy green beans from Kenya or should I buy a take-away latte even though my cup has been left in the dishwasher? to the large, will buying a hybrid car really make a difference to the world’s survival chances when you consider the labour and pollution involved in mining lithium and the disposal of my old car? Sometimes it seems like every decision I make in my day has eco-guilt poured through it like salted caramel.
Too many people still find sustainability a turn-off. It’s a signal to stop, change the channel, and tune out. It’s too difficult and painful to hear. It is indeed difficult. It is scary to think that we could be in an irreversible position. I can understand why it can seem preferable to engage with the real terror of climate change threatening species. However, despair and ignorance can be paralysing and ineffective. They don’t help and they certainly don’t protect us from the reality of climate change. The worst thing we can do is to disconnect from the problem. It is essential to find ways to connect and to live sustainably, even though it may seem small and futile. Even though it can seem impossible to solve the crisis, Despite the fact that some may feel it is too late.
Livia Firth’s suggestion to live more sustainable lives is revolutionary. She suggests that we could be closer to sustainability if we had respect for people we interact with in all areas. This is because each of us has the power to make the most respectful choices possible, no matter where we are on the privilege scale. Sustainability is not about the environment. Sustainability is about people.
If you are struggling to see the value in living a sustainable lifestyle, Firths connecting sustainability and respect is a great way to reset your perspective. You might feel resentful or lazy washing your recyclable plastic packaging for the recycling bin. Think about the person who will be sorting it. All resentment will disappear as soon as you realize that there is no reason to force someone to sort through your food packaging. Respect is the key word here.
It becomes a lot less tedious if we can tie sustainability to respecting each other.
It’s natural to feel defeated and discouraged about the climate crisis. This is especially true when public intellectuals like Noam Chmsky, now 93 tell us some harsh truths about the state our planet. A recent interview with the New StatesmanHe said that we are likely to move to a future in where the “lucky ones” will die faster, and we now face the possibility of total destruction of organised human existence on Earth.
It might seem pointless to wash recyclable packaging in the face these stark statements. But, it is important that we remember that we can make small changes in our lives even when irreversible damage is occurring. Those of us who have the ability to choose how and what to consume can make choices that will be sustainable. It might not be just the planet that benefits if we focus more on respect. Our burden of eco-guilt might lighten too.