Coping with Environmental Guilt


Growing up, sustainability was always a part of my life. My mom does holistic wellness for a living, after all. We grew up vegan. We grew up recycling. Our lifestyle was oriented around health, yes, but also around doing the best we could for the Earth we were given.


HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE?


2020 has had a doomsday mentality, that's for sure. Not a day goes by when we aren't bombarded with headlines telling us that we're screwed, that it's too late, that we're all going to die. If you live with anxiety like I do, it's enough of a reason to want to stay off my phone.


It would be naïve to say that we don't have a lot to worry about.


But sometimes I want to know less. I wish I knew less, so I could live a comfortable life safe from the knowledge that my actions have an impact on the collective good. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we are not self-contained. We reverberate into the outside world.


Here's the thing, though: the Earth will continue whether or not it can support human life. "Save the world" is a bit of a misnomer; we're trying to save ourselves and other living organisms. Even if it's a barren rock after we destroy it, the Earth will continue. But we will not.


Our responsibility is to save lives.


WHAT I USED TO THINK ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY


I used to be the type to carry around a plastic bottle if there wasn't a recycling bin. I used to lead by example, be obsessive about sustainability.


I never particularly stopped, but it got to the point where I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was beating myself up about every mistake I made. If I bought something and later found out that it was from a brand that wasn't engaged in helpful practices -- before I became more conscious about how and where to buy -- I'd be a jerk to myself over it for far too long.


Then I got jaded. I heard about corporations dumping thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean. Saw the Dawn commercials with the animals being cleaned from oil spills. Whatever I did, it wouldn't matter -- not when money was making the world go round, while corporations still had a buy-in. I chatted about my focus on clean beauty products the other day.


It makes it hard to believe that one soda can makes the difference between the Earth we want and the Earth we have.



I don't mean to sound like a downer, but I think this environmental helplessness is an extremely valid part of considering our identities in the modern age. Our generation will have this issue regardless, navigating where we each fit into the greater picture of things. What can we do?


THE TURNING POINT


Eventually, I started to feel better about it. It wasn't an easy process, and it was by no means linear. It took me a long time to grapple with my place in all of this, and to learn how to balance guilt, responsibility, and feeling roughly okay about our trajectory.


It came down to this: regardless of whether or not I'm going to change the world by living a sustainable life, and by carrying around that plastic water bottle, it's still the right thing to do.


Authenticity means living a life in which your values are displayed through your actions. Life is nonlinear, and we're still learning, but it means that once I felt that gut-deep awareness that I still had an impact -- no matter how small -- on the Earth around me, I couldn't go back.


There's so much information out there now about what sustainability is, humanity's ripple effects into the universe, all of that. It's impossible to ignore.


So what that means is that even if it's just my choice to be environmentally conscious, to try and contribute to saving the world even if I can't do it individually, I need to keep doing it. (And spreading the word, as I can!) Lead by example. At the very least, doing good makes me feel better about all of it.


HOW YOU CAN HELP


I mentioned this in my clean beauty post, but put your money where your mouth is. Part of the reason we feel like we're not making enough of a difference is that so much of sustainability falls on the shoulders of corporations -- which aren't going to change unless environmental consciousness changes their bottom line. If women stop buying mascara because they learn that the company in question has horrible sustainability practices, that corporation will eventually start adopting them because they need those dollars.


Sustainability is a big fashion and retail trend in 2020, as it should be. Because customers are concerned about environmental change, more companies have pledged to have green products or zero-waste processes. Some of them are exaggerating (which is called "greenwashing", so do your research) but others have been pressured to change because they want to make a profit. Intentions don't always have to be noble, as long as it preserves our universe in the end.


Compost. Recycle. More than that, reuse and repurpose your items. Save your bags. Use reusable ones! We're often surprised by how versatile items in your home can be. We're relatively used to preserving boxes or wrapping paper, but there are so many other items that we can extend the life cycle of rather than throwing away to rot in a landfill.


Eat vegan! I've talked in another blog post about how it's not an all-or-nothing decision; even scaling down your meat or animal product consumption makes a huge impact on the emission of greenhouse gases, as well as other practices that directly impact sustainability.


Call your legislators when there's legislation on the line that will have harmful environmental effects. There are also many email templates, text hotlines, and other avenues in which you can pressure your representatives into conveying the wishes of the people. On that note, vote for candidates who align with your environmental values. Change happens at a big level, but starts with individual action.


You can help in the fight against climate change. You just have to be patient about it.


Photo by Bernardo Taveira on Unsplash