With the world finally understanding that our ecosystem is, putting it mildly, not in the best condition, more and more people are trying to live more eco-friendly. This is quite a positive trend, taking into account, that mankind has already used up all its ecological resources for the year 2019 by July 29th. This means that we use more resources than our planet can produce for solid 5 months this year.
A lot of people struggle with becoming environmentally friendly. The German term ‘umweltbewusst’ sounds better in this respect, since it means to be conscious of the environment. Being friendly is good, but we should also be conscious of ourselves and our planet.
The problem is that even though being eco-friendly sounds good in theory, this trend has its issues.
Issue 1: do we know how to live eco-friendly?
Yes, we do! If in doubt, ask your (grand) parents how they shopped 20 years ago. They didn’t use any plastic containers or plastic bags, they wrapped cheese and butter in old newspaper and bought milk in their own jars. They also separated waste, not because it was trendy, simply because it was the only sustainable way to take out the garbage. Moreover, people born in the Soviet Union still shudder at the thought of string bags, which are so popular nowadays.
So, is there a bit of overreaction around the trend on how to become eco-friendly? The older generations were quite eco-friendly. Was it convenient though? Absolutely not. But we can still use their practices, which, combined with new technologies, can put being eco-friendly on a new level.
Issue 2: the complicacy of being eco-friendly nowadays.
This brings us to the second problem. Being eco-friendly is not always convenient. More than that, it is impossible to be 100% environmentally friendly. I bet you wouldn’t like the idea of getting a shot at the doctors with an already used syringe, or not using pads, diapers, condoms or other “blessings of civilization”.
We cannot turn back time and stop using all of these things. Let’s face it: they became popular for a reason. Plastic is much lighter than glass, for example. What impact does that have? It means that it’s not only cheaper to transport goods in plastic bottles, but also paradoxically eco-friendlier in a way, because a van full of plastic bottles produces less CO-2 compared to a van full of glass.
Issue 3: the ethics, hypocrisy and double standards.
Another problem with being eco-friendly is a constant feeling that you’re doing something wrong or not doing enough.
For example, if you want to stop drinking cow-milk because of how much water is used to feed cows (ignoring the ethical aspects of this issue for now) and try to drink plant milk, you might be surprised, that all of the cartons of milk (in Austria at least) are made out of plastic-coated paper. This substance makes the process of recycling much more difficult. Whereas you can always find cow milk in a glass bottle in any Austrian shop, there is no such option for plant milk. So, it’s either you “fund” a cruel industry or you create more garbage, which is almost not biodegradable. It’s more like you have to choose, which one is worse.
is using land transport instead of planes. But somehow a ticket to Amsterdam from Vienna and back can cost you about 50 Euros, whereas a ticket to another city in Austria, which is 150 kilometers away, up to 70 Euros one-way. And that’s where the hypocrisy lies. The government‘s transport agencies keep raising the ticket prices. Why can you easily travel to another country by plane, but exploring the country you live in may cost you a lot more? Of course, you have a choice: you can either spend a fortune on a trip or just stay at home.
These kinds of choices don’t really give you a right of option, it’s just an illusion of having it. It would be much more efficient, if the governments encouraged using land transport.
Issue 4: hype and the feeling of guilt.
From all of this arises the feeling of guilt. It seems like everybody else is doing great being eco-friendly, but you are not. Supposedly, you do a good deed, but instead of feeling good you end up feeling guilty, since there are so many controversial issues with almost every aspect of becoming eco-friendly. Therefore, you don’t get any emotional gratification from it. The feeling of guilt is partially imposed by all the hype around the environmental theme. And yes, we should talk about environmental problems, but what should not happen is a constant shift of responsibility from huge corporations to mass consumers. And a lot of companies do that by greenwashing, which lies in “green” marketing, whereas these companies aren’t actually eco-friendly and often harm the environment.
But the truth is, you are doing fine by trying to live sustainable and taking your first steps towards eco-friendliness. And you really are doing something good.
The sad truth
Unfortunately, taking “half measures” is not enough to save our planet. This problem is much more global, and this is why the actions to take should be serious. There won’t be any changes unless big corporations become eco-friendlier, unless the US president believes in global warming, unless the “garbage mafia” in developing countries that doesn’t give any chance to open waste recycling plants disappears, unless there are educational programs for people, unless governments start funding the development of new technologies for recycling… And there are many more “unless”.
So please do not feel guilty for doing something good – even carrying a reusable bag around with you, having your coffee to go in your own mug, or going vegan once a week is already something. And you’re doing your best. Keep in mind, that the whole responsibility of what is happening with nature doesn’t lie on JUST your shoulders. It’s more complicated. So simply try to be conscious about nature and yourself.
P.S. TEDxVienna supports the ideas of saving our environment, therefore the annual TEDxVienna event will be eco-friendly.