I’m having one of those days. One of those days when trying to live a sustainable life feels impossible.
I’m doing the No Plastic July challenge. I am rocking it! I am meeting my goals, we are having fun and despite that all I can see is a tidal wave of plastic. Everything seems to be pushing me to spend and consume at an alarming rate. Every day I find out something else horrible about the sickening conditions we keep animals in, about human slavery in the the food chain, human slavery in the clothing chain, plastic killing our oceans. I’m not even going to link to the stories today.
I just feel so full of rage and then utterly powerless. I can’t imagine what sort of person would run a corporation that does these things happily for profit. I can’t imagine how we have evolved an economy that looks like this. I don’t understand how politicians in this country look at the budget and say “well we’d better cut benefits for these poverty stricken people because that subsidy to the arms trade won’t pay itself.”
It saddens me that we have all become so good at compartmentalising our compassion. If a neighbour or friend is in trouble then most people will move mountains to help and support them. But if Primark is selling clothes that are being made in horrible and unsafe conditions then people don’t have the same motivation to buy a fair trade or second hand T-shirt instead. It isn’t like Primark’s business model is a surprise any more, there have been lots of news stories about how their clothes are made.
I think part of the reason we are so good at compartmentalising is that there is too much bad stuff, too much injustice and unless you live off-grid on a totally self-sufficient farm then at some point you’ll have to make compromises you don’t want to. When that happens it’s easier to switch off and not think too hard about what you’re doing. And I do that too, and I feel terrible about it.
And most consumers are either so far removed from the means of production that it is becoming easier and easier to pretend it doesn’t matter that other humans are dying to make a cheaper T-shirt or the consumers themselves are so poor that all they can afford is the most unethical, unhealthy food and the cheapest clothing regardless of how they would like to live. At the same time corporations are making massive profits, some have a bigger GDP than many countries but I see little evidence of that wealth being put back into the communities they are living in. In fact I see zero hours contracts, no living wage and a mountain of waste which is choking the life out of us by inches.
Pretty depressing stuff and easy to get overwhelmed. Like I said, I’m having one of those days. And it is on these days I need to remind myself to come back to my values, be grateful for what I have and carry on with actions which are right until I feel better again. Because making changes to my life, living differently to the usual systems, writing about it… all these things do matter and in a couple of days I’ll believe that again.
I decided to come up with 5 ways to make it easier on myself until I’m back in the groove.
1. Take it one decision at a time. When we were interviewed for the Guardian I said that if you miss the chance to make a good choice about something (fair trade, organic cotton etc.) then there will be another choice coming soon. This is a double edged sword, on the one hand there are hundreds of traps every day, hundreds of choices you have to make because everything we consume is somehow tainted, by poor labour conditions, bad animal welfare, toxic chemicals, plastics that lives forever in landfill. The task is daunting. So break it down, don’t look at the sea of decisions, look at just the next decision you have to make. Can you make a good choice here, can I fill up my water bottle to take out with me instead of buying another Evian? Take it one decision at a time and if you mess up then don’t think of all bad options you have, see how many opportunities you have left in your life to minimise the harm.
2. Start with what you love – I love eating good food, I like cooking but I love eating. So when I feel overwhelmed I go back to what I enjoy. I don’t mean comfort eating, I mean I cooking. I’ll make something from scratch like roasted almond nut butter from fair trade almonds which means I’ll reuse a jar rather than buying a new one and make something tasty that I love. Something I can’t buy in the shops because it doesn’t taste the same as when I make it. You might enjoy writing campaigning letters or blog articles, walking instead of driving (I love walking, I’ll walk anywhere as long as the weather is fine), vegetable gardening. Take the part of being green which you enjoy for its own sake and prioritise doing that.
3. Prune your Social Media – sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed it is because I’m getting too many bulletins and messages about how bad things are. I’m not suggesting hiding away and pretending things aren’t happening. I’m suggesting you limit your exposure. Work out what your values are, then work out what your priorities are according to those values and concentrate on those campaigns only. Un-subscribe from everything which isn’t in your list of priorities. Maybe tomorrow you can resubscribe. But if you concentrate your available energy on a smaller list of causes then you will take some action. If you feel like you should be taking action on everything that floods your inbox, facebook, twitter, blog feed with issues then you’ll take action on nothing.
4. Check in with your People – no one wants to live in an echo chamber, but sometimes we need a community of support. A community where you don’t have to argue with people or persuade them that we do need to ditch plastic and we do need to invest in green energy or that climate change is real and we can do something about it. Sometimes you need to be with a group of people who support you and who you can support in return. I have argued for many years that protests and marches and petitions DO make a difference, they make a huge difference. They might not change a politician’s mind or make a new law but they do make me feel less alone. They give me and many others the strength and energy to continue fighting for what is right and that is priceless.
(To be honest I’m really sceptical when people throw about the accusation that people just “want an echo chamber”. Last time I looked although lots of people agree that climate change is real and slave labour is bad – no-one with the power is doing anything about it, in fact they are coming up with lots of reasons why we can’t change. I see and hear people arguing against climate change all the time and I’ve rarely felt they had said anything truly interesting or challenging to contribute.)
5. Celebrate your successes – I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect and there isn’t more to be done. There is plenty! But I could do with sitting down and feeling proud of the things we have achieved and how we’ve changed in the process. Because when I remember how much I have achieved I remember I can achieve some more!
I think I feel better already getting this post out – it is a long one but I hope someone finds it useful.
I’d love to know if anyone else gets a sort of eco-social-justice burnout and how you get over it.