Everyday we read more about the climate crisis and the melting glaciers, we wonder about how we are becoming part of the problem. The graveness of the climate crisis has made us more conscious about our practices and behaviour on an individual level. We try to avoid the use of plastic, repurpose clothing, and thrift instead of buy from fast fashion companies. But oftentimes we are unable to continue being eco-conscious and sustainable in every situation that arises. This often leads to a phenomenon known as Eco-guilt. Eco-guilt is guilt that arises when people think about times they have not met personal or societal standards for environmental behavior. It is the self-reproach we feel when we’ve done something that’s bad for the planet. We feel guilty about the environment because we aren't doing as much as others around us, or, more likely, as much as we believe everyone else is doing. As a result, we are more prone to perform the bare minimum in order to feel better about ourselves. Even though every step towards sustainability is of significance, yet it’s important to realise that not all pro-environment behaviour are of equal value.
But the question arises—is eco-guilt benefiting us? Does it make us go out of our way to be more conscious and aware of the consequences of our actions?
Eco-guilt does more harm than benefit to us, it causes a sense of paralysis. Although studies have found some positive changes in behaviour induced by eco-guilt like using reusable bottles and eating less meat. Such behavioural changes are not likely to keep you motivated in the long-term. Indeed, some experts believe that eco-guilt may cause more harm than benefit. When things are marketed as being environmentally friendly, it might lead consumers to assume they can buy their way out of the climate crisis when the ultimate goal should be consuming less overall. People who are deeply worried about the climate crisis may feel unable to join the environmental movement due to guilt. Elizabeth Cline, an author and expert on consumer cultures says, “If you feel like you’re not allowed to participate in the conversation because of the way you shop, then we’re losing a lot of people that would otherwise be involved in fixing problems.”
The concept of eco-guilt is being manipulated by corporations and governments to place the onus on the consumer. British Petroleum (BP) developed a deceptive marketing strategy in 2005 that established the concept of a "personal carbon footprint." The phrase persisted, and now we're all aware of the possible influence our everyday commutes, diets, and summer vacations have on the environment. Corporations like BP, which is one of the world's most polluting firms, are using the power of eco-guilt to divert our attention. They want us to feel bad about ourselves and forget about the huge harm they inflict. They want us to take the easy way out and make the smallest modifications necessary so that we feel good about ourselves and don't question their position or industry. Fast fashion brands do the same thing of tricking us into believing in their “environmental conscious policies” and “capsule collections”. We need to move away from such manipulations of the capitalistic industry and focus on grassroots organizations demanding and working towards making a real change.
Some ways to cope with Eco-guilt:
- Focus on systemic change
Instead than focusing solely on individual lifestyle choices, we need as many people as possible active in the climate movement—and using their collective power to make a difference. Our individual choices matter, especially when we're functioning as part of a larger group. Instead of attempting to be the most eco-friendly customer possible, focusing on how these acts can produce broader social changes will have a much higher influence.
- Aim for progress (not perfection)
Eco friendly living is a journey not a destination. There needs to be a continuous effort not perfect effort to make positive changes.
- Don’t compare yourself to others
Sustainability is not cheap. Some may have more recluses to be able to practice a sustainable lifestyle. Be proud of the Eco friendly decisions and efforts to make and be consistent in it.
- Spread the word
Creating education and awareness around such topics is also an essential process of making progress when talking about sustainability.
- Join an Eco friendly community
Be part of something where people have similar beliefs and you help each other become more conscious and persistent in everyday life. This also gives hope to one and reminds them that there are still people in the world who are trying to protect their environment.
- Start with small steps
Being present and conscious in your everyday life. Taking the effort to be able to do as much in one’s own capacity.