On the kitchen floor, shoulder deep in a rubbish bin, I scream “THIS YOGURT POT IS RECYCLABLE!!!”. I waft through the mess finding more incorrectly placed waste, mumbling nonsense and cursing my housemates who sit on the sofa unphased. Shortly after this, I will receive what I believe to be second-degree burns from the hot tap while furiously scrubbing an empty tin of beans on the off chance that it may actually be recycled. The following Tuesday evening will bring the same chain of events as will every bin night till eternity. Rinse, recycle, repeat…
As I arrive at the checkout of my local supermarket, it dawns on me that I have once again left my reusable shopping bags at home. Reluctant to purchase a 5p plastic carrier bag that will surely welcome disapproving glares from fellow shoppers and onlooking eco-warriors alike, I decide I can manage without any bag. I am confronted with a basket of shopping that before seemed sensible but now poses an insurmountable task.
I strategically balance a loaf of bread, a carton of eggs, digestives, Thai sweet chilli sensations and a bag of basmati in my palms while three loose sweet potatoes are tucked beneath my chin and a litre of milk dangles from my pinkie. A bottle of gin is kept under my right arm while the tonic sits comfortably under the left. Once-again I am tote-less and totally dishevelled in an ASDA car park. I waddle home triumphantly.
The satisfaction I feel after ordering a takeaway from the sofa is unmatched. I know that reducing my meat consumption is an easy way to reduce my carbon footprint. That being so, whenever I go for the vegetarian option, the satisfaction of a takeaway is coupled with smug self-righteousness. As if by doing so, I have single-handedly stopped the ice caps from melting. I order a meat-free burger with chips only for it to arrive wrapped in a cocoon of polystyrene accompanied with a bouquet of plastic forks. The delivery driver hops back into his 2004 Vauxhall Corsa and disappears in a plume of diesel fumes. I no longer feel smug.
How is it that I repeatedly find myself in these situations? I, like many, have fallen victim to the phenomena known as ‘climate shame’. Climate shame is the feeling one experiences when they fail to make ecological and sustainable choices. For years, public campaigns have sought to highlight the importance of an individual’s impact on our planet. It has been deeply engrained in us that the choices we make each day will affect Earth’s future. This sense of duty is what compels us to behave this way, it is what makes everyday decisions seem like life-altering moral dilemmas. Of course, It is easy to understand why so many of us still end up making unsustainable choices as, more often than not, they are the most convenient and cost-efficient options available.
It has been widely reported that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. How can it be that the same 100 CEOs sleep soundly each night? Meanwhile, I’m lying awake worrying about the reusable coffee cup I forgot to bring to Starbucks. Such figures make me question why I regularly spend 8 minutes in tortured deliberation over the veg aisle weighing the benefits and detriments of two near-identical bags of salad. Unfortunately, my Sainsbury’s bag for life will not solve the problem, tackling the crisis will require another industrial revolution. Nonetheless, the collective efforts of consumers will play an enormous part in shifting our institutions towards a more sustainable future.