Eco-shaming is something that I have seen being talked about a lot recently. It goes by a few different names, but eco-shaming is essentially making others feel bad that they aren’t doing enough for the environment. I think this can be extended more generally to shaming people for not being ethical enough in other areas such as animal welfare and human rights. I have both been a victim of eco-shaming and been an eco-shamer myself, but I want to talk about why it needs to stop.
I came across this post from Ethical Hour that talks about how 26% of a sample of 18-55 year olds exaggerate their environmental credentials to alleviate green guilt. Green guilt being a feeling of guilt because you’re not doing enough for the environment. This statistic shows that eco-shaming really is prevalent. I definitely think its worth giving Ethical Hours post a read if you want another perspective on the eco-shaming phenomenon.
I had an experience just the other week of being eco-shamed. I tweeted about how I found the Heathrow airport expansion contradictory considering the government had just announced their plans to have net zero emissions by 2050. I then got quite a few people criticising me for flying. With one user even scrolling through my tweets to find evidence that I had flown.
Photo by Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash
As I mentioned earlier, I have also done the eco-shaming. I have been vegan for almost 4 years, and for the first year I was regrettably rather aggressive about it and would easily criticise people for not going vegan themselves. What I eventually learned from this is that it really doesn’t do anything to help the movement, it only drives people away.
I sympathise with both the eco-shamed and the eco-shamers. When you’re already doing so much more to help the environment/people/animals than the average person, it feels unfair to be criticised for the few things you’re not quite there with. On the other hand, when you’re passionate about an ethical cause and other people don’t want to come on board, it can be easy to criticise them for it.
But I think we really need to get away from this mindset. The thing is, its often those doing the most who are being criticised. And they’re likely aware of their own shortcomings. I am well aware that flying is bad for the environment, and I have been feeling guilty about the amount of flying I’m doing this year. The thing is, its really hard to live an eco-friendly and ethical life. It means you have to go against the mainstream, you have to make more effort than the average person. We should be proud of any positive step we’re taking.
There is not one person out there who is perfect. I have the vegan side of things sorted, but there’s someone out there who isn’t vegan but they never fly. Neither one of us is better than the other. There’s a vegan that doesn’t fly, but they buy clothes made in sweatshops. Everyone has their downfalls.
We all have different priorities and these are reflected in the way we choose to live ethically. Vegan is always going to be my number one priority, so I might end up eating food that came in plastic packaging instead of non-vegan food that was packaged more sustainably. Other’s priorities will be making sure they use as little packaging as possible and that’s okay because its what matters to them.
As mentioned in Ethical Hours post our values sometimes have to be compromised. It’s really complex. We can’t possibly try and understand someone’s reasons for acting in a certain way just from a few tweets or Instagram posts.
Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash
Ultimately, we’re wasting our energy criticising others. We could be using this time in much more productive ways. We could be signing petitions, writing to MP’s, making videos, writing blog posts, protesting. These would all be much more beneficial to our cause than being petty about others imperfect actions.
I think we also have the tendency to eco-shame ourselves. I know I do. Its easy to feel like you’re not doing enough when there are so many problems in the world. When you look into it enough, you can find a reason for it being bad to consume, or do, anything. The thing is, you’re probably doing your best right now, and you should be proud of that. We shouldn’t feel guilty because the reality is that we live in an unethical world, and this is not our fault.
Its definitely important to strive for improvement. But we need to be realistic with ourselves and with others. We need to forgive ourselves and others for our shortcomings. Let’s all keep doing our best to positively inspire change.