Awareness is a funny thing isn’t it? When I used to teach graphic design a few years ago I used to impress upon my students the dreadful thing that is the Comic Sans typeface. Students would give a sharp intake of breath, for hadn’t I just impugned the reputation of their favourite typeface? The one they’d grown up using, and loved. Once I’d pointed out all the things that were wrong with Comic Sans, then they could never look at it in quite the same way again.
It’s the same, I’ve found, with litter. Once I started doing regular litter picks in my street and round the block, then I see litter everywhere. I can walk down the same streets with friends and they don’t notice the odd can stuffed into a hedge, or crisp packet floating down the road. They just don’t see it. But, once I started noticing litter then I just can’t switch off from noticing it.
And, I’m finding that’s the same with politics, and the environment. Today I stumbled across Naomi Klein, whose writing on climate change, while welcome, is rather terrifying. We seem to be stumbling towards a future where the planet will start to bite back in terms of extreme weather events and instability, as well as running rather low on precious resources, and when I start to actually take in the enormity of this prospect it makes me want to run for the cover of my duvet.
So, what do we do when our awareness has been raised about something? It’s like seeing Stephen Fry naked, once you’ve seen some things, you can’t un-see them, and you can’t stop being aware once you know about something.
Yet the problem with ‘green’ concerns I’ve noticed, and it was something Paul Kingsnorth picked up in his recent book, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, is that they are couched in terms of keeping things the way they are but putting the word ‘eco’ in front of them. So, don’t stop flying, just call it ‘eco tourism’, pick the ‘green’ delivery slot when you supermarket shop online, buy fairtrade, eat organic and wash at 30 degrees, so much so status quo. The problem is that none of those things encourages actual behaviour change, they just prompt guilt followed by the ability to assuage that guilt by making a ‘green’ purchase or ‘thinking about the environment’ before acting. I suspect that the reason most people follow that path, myself included, is that because to fully take on board what the scientists are saying would mean a complete sea-change in Western living, and so despite being aware, it’s just easier to try to pretend we haven’t seen what’s coming. I tried googling ‘ways to save the planet’ and it just came up with trite ‘top 10’ lists of things. Nothing that’s really difficult to do.
So, I went on a Reduce Your Footprint quiz on the Earth Day website. I score well on cycling everywhere, not ever flying and not being a conspicuous consumer. I score badly on eating meat and dairy weekly, using gas to heat my house, as well as my commute to work, which although I rarely use a car round town, does stack up my annual mileage.
It looks as though I need to eat less meat. Fine by me, but not by my husband who acts as though his throat has been cut if he has a meal without a meat product in it. I need to use less gas to heat the house, not a huge problem as we do have a wood burner and lots of jumpers, so that’s doable. But the last one, how do I cut down my mileage? Car share, work from home or find another job locally. And here is where I come up against the issue that most of us come up against, to really commit to making a difference it may have to hurt, we may have to put our money where our mouth is and take some tough decisions, which is why the ‘greenwash’ products do so well, because they are so much easier than actually changing habits or lifestyles.
But I think it’s about time that I tried to try, as thinking I’m all holy and green while driving a gas-guzzler to work won’t ‘greenwash’ any more!