Reflections on EcoNuttery

I don’t miss the guilt.

Once upon a time, I was an ecoactivist.

I make it sound simple, because in a way it was. I “woke up” on evening, by watching an episode of the Colbert Report. One evening I was your average person who didn’t care or think about the environment overly much. The next evening I was a Green.

And I went all in.

I gave up buying things. I gave up toilet paper. I gave up paper towels. I gave up driving. IN LOS ANGELES.

But it was never enough. There were always the things that I wasn’t ready to stop doing, the things I agonized over.

Like eating meat. Or flying.

I was tormented by the whole flying thing. I’d argue with people about it. Try to justify myself to myself. I’d say to myself, “Hey, Vanessa does it. Other people do it.” I’d spend ages on those carbon calculators trying to figure out a way to fly and still not be one of those terrible people who were destroying the Earth.

But I couldn’t ever do it.

Here I was an ecoactivist, and yet a total fraud. I cared about the Earth enough to give up god damn toilet paper, and yet, according to some Internet site, if everyone lived like me, we’d need seven Earths. Lord help us all.

Ultimately, I wonder if it was the constant guilt, the feeling that nothing was ever good enough that led me to break down. To look at my desperate acts of individual ecoactivism and conclude that there was no there there. That the couple dozen rolls of toilet paper and paper towels I was saving were pointless. That turning down the thermostat just made me uncomfortable and wasn’t actually going to stop climate change. That what I was engaging in was nothing more or less than political theatre.

I don’t miss the guilt that fueled my constant striving to be the best eco-nut that I could be.

But I do miss the optimism.

12 responses to “Reflections on EcoNuttery

  1. Hear ya sister! I still live a pretty green life but I don’t feel guilty like I used to or stress about each little thing. But I do miss that optimism!

  2. Girl, I miss you. Actually that’s another thing that I miss about my eco-nutty phase … the community.

  3. I gave up that yearning to be ‘pure’, to do every ‘green’ thing I could, as best as I could, and go to bed dreaming about taking the next level or next step. I didn’t give up toilet paper, but I saved the old flannellete sheets that would make ‘family cloth’ for when we did!

    Why? Why was I so determined? Yes, for the future of the planet & my kids. But also, I guess, because I would feel so good when I achieved it, I’d know I made a difference if I could be ‘pure’, it’s what everyone *should* be doing, right? Right? Nope. What everyone should be doing is caring, is being aware, is making changes BUT not being miserable over it. Not suffering eco-guilt and not burning out over it. How in the heck will that help?

    • Dixiebelle, you hit the nail on the head.

      I too, think a lot of me was fueled because I’d feel good when I achieved whatever the next step was. Giving up toilet paper didn’t make sense exactly, but it made me feel good about myself.

  4. Ruchi, That’s what I miss about my eco-holic phase as well – the daily interaction with like-minded eco-nutty gals like you two. 🙂 It was a great experience and I learned a lot – about the environment, about the power of individual actions and about myself. Miss you both!

  5. Hear, hear. I like your blog name, and why you chose it. I seem to side-step the eco-guilt reasonably well, maybe b/c my dad was always trying to give me guilt trips growing up, and now I’m pretty good at dodging them.

  6. Pingback: Reflections Part Deux | arduous blog

  7. I think I’ve managed to mostly avoid eco-guilt because I have never believed that my individual choices were necessarily the one right way to be. Figuring out how to live without plastic is fun. Yes, I believe that plastic is a big problem, which is why I started living this way to begin with, but it’s not the only problem. At the time I started, it was one tangible thing that I thought I could get a handle on. And as I learned about alternatives, I would share them with other people. I’ve never thought my personal lifestyle changes were going to “save the planet,” but I did and do believe that I can use myself as an example to show people another way to be. If they choose to adopt some of the changes, great. The main thing for me is to encourage people to be mindful about their choices but not to beat themselves up for every eco “sin.” I don’t believe in sin, just thoughtlessness and ignorance. And I don’t believe there is one right way to protect the planet. There are many. And there are many questions that don’t have easy answers. In your follow-up post, you mention diapers. It’s true that there are pros and cons to cloth vs. disposable. For me, the important thing is for people to consider the pros and cons and make a conscious choice.

    Okay, I’m blathering on and I don’t think I’m getting very far. There are a ton of reasons to make ecological choices that have nothing to do with guilt. I think staying in the present moment instead of future tripping helps. You can feel you’re not making a difference when you look at our environmental problems on a macro level. But from far enough away, nothing we do matters. But our choices matter on a personal level, and when we influence others, on a societal level. Maybe the overwhelming feelings come when we forget that we are all just small cogs in the machinery of the world and believe we are more important than we are. We have to find the balance between believing nothing we do matters and believing that we have the power to destroy the planet with one toilet paper choice.

    Also? The obstacles to low impact living that we encounter when we actually try to do it in the first place show us the flaws in the system that need to be changed. The goal should not be for everyone to become eco-saints–because that is never going to happen and just leads to burnout, as you have discovered–but to wake people up to the impact of our lifestyles and the systemic changes that we must push for if we want to protect the planet for future generations. I want people to start with themselves–but I don’t want them to stop there.

    • Beth, lots of food for thought in your post!

      I think you are absolutely right that the obstacles to low impact living show us the flaws in the system that need to be changed. Were it not for my “waking up,” I wouldn’t be where I am now which is working to make clean energy cheap.

      I think you adopt a very zen-like attitude about your eco-choices. Unfortunately, I think I was always much more guilt-filled and judgmental.

      Also, on a semi-unrelated note, I loved your blog post about The Lorax.

  8. Pingback: Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion « Clarissa's Blog

  9. I don’t feel guilty, partly because I’m far from the worst – but I had guests from abroad last week and noticed how naturally they conserved *everything*, turned out all lights not in use *immediately,* etc., and it really gave me pause.

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