Over the past few years, many many different types of shaming have been born. There’s fat shaming, slut shaming, body shaming, school lunch shaming (yes, that really is a thing), the walk of shame, the cone of shame, the hall of shame, and the list goes on.
And with all these different ways to make people feel bad being executed all the time, I don’t know why I was so surprised to discover that shaming is also prominent when it comes to matters of the environment (flight shaming, eco shaming and sustainability shaming being just a few examples). In fact, last April I inadvertently created an online eco-shaming tirade involving a lot of hats, a helicopter and a prominent mountain restaurant.
While somewhat amicably resolved, this event opened my eyes to the fact that this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME. In Morzine we’re pretty switched on to green living and the effects of the climate crisis, but how many times have you complained that almond milk is the least eco-friendly kind of nut milk while chowing down on an water-hungry avocado from Peru? How many times have you slated Missguided for the €1 bikini and then grabbed a pair of shoes from the Primark bargain bin because you needed them to wear to a wedding? How many times have you decided to become a vegetarian because it’s better for the planet and then eaten a Gregg’s bacon sandwich because you were hungover?
Even prominent climate activists like Leonardo DiCaprio, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion founder Dr Gail Bradbrook can’t catch a break. I mean, how DARE that guy from Titanic preach about climate change but fly around the world making movies? How could the sixteen-year-old face of the climate emergency sail to the USA to avoid flying, when the boat’s crew are being FLOWN home after the journey? If she really cared she’d never dare leave her house. And that Gail Bradbrook, she flew 11,000 miles to Costa Rica and back THREE YEARS AGO, before Extinction Rebellion was even a thing? Fraud. Total fraud.
There are a number of reasons we like to call others out on their so-called irresponsible behaviour. Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves because we don’t feel green enough in our own lives. Maybe we’re in denial and want to prove that because environmental activists aren’t all living in living in the woods, eating moss and drinking rain water, that climate change isn’t a real issue. Or maybe we just feel that because we make a lot of environmental sacrifices, others could be doing more.
The point is we’re all massive hypocrites when it comes to the environment. It’s not our fault, it’s just the downside to being alive. Where we really should be directing our frustrations isn’t towards each other for not recycling properly or driving our kids to school, but towards the big businesses and governments who enable, encourage and financially benefit from our environmentally unfriendly lifestyles. The whole point Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion are trying to make is that while it’s great to do as much as you can, the global system is what needs to change the most.
“If the socioeconomic system effectively forces many people to live far from their jobs without adequate public transport or safe cycling routes, they will drive their cars to work. If the system makes it much cheaper to fly 200 miles than to take the train, people will fly” writes Thomas Sinclair, philosophy fellow at the University of Oxford, and Extinction Rebellion member. “What [Extinction Rebellion] preaches is a radical change of the system within which we must make our choices, not of the choices we make within the system as it stands.”
But it does make sense that we feel the blows of our environmental failings so personally. “The dominant narrative around climate change tells us that it’s our fault. We left the lights on too long and didn’t recycle our paper. I’m here to tell you that that is bullshit” states climate writer Mary Anaïs Haglar. “Don’t give into that shame. It’s not yours. The oil and gas industry is gaslighting you.”
A recent Guardian investigation revealed a third of all global carbon emissions can be traced back to just 20 companies, twelve of which are state-owned. Several of these companies went on to say that they don’t believe they’re directly responsible for how their products are used, despite there being minimal alternatives. And this is isn’t the only example. We see articles all the time on how we need to stop flying or stop having babies or stop buying clothes to save the planet. While voting with your money can often be a good thing, needing to buy new pants is now giving me a panic attack.
For something that’s not really in our hands, we’re sure being made to feel like it is. And while we try to affect change on a bigger scale, all we can do is try to be greener in our own lives. So next time you see someone ordering a drink-in coffee in a takeaway cup or not putting the lid back on the hot tub, take it as a sign that they probably don’t realise the impact of what they’re doing and take the time to be nice about it. Then direct your frustration towards the real culprits.