Emer McLysaght: I’m a climate terrorist and I feel guilty and confused

We must see the value in both daily change and civil resistance

I’m a consumer who so far has had a fair to middling attitude to personal responsibility when it comes to climate change

I’m a consumer who so far has had a fair to middling attitude to personal responsibility when it comes to climate change

 

Hands up, who’s bought something cheap and plastic in the past 12 months because it was handier than a more sustainable option? Hands up, who’s picked up some extremely affordable and disposable clothing items because it was more convenient than searching for something long-lasting and environmentally friendly? Hands up, who’s thrown a recyclable yoghurt pot in the bin because you were too jaded to wash it out, telling yourself that it’s all going to the same landfill anyway? Hands up, who’s let themselves off the hook because you keep reading that six or 15 or 27 megacompanies are producing 70 or 80 or 92 per cent of the earth’s carbon emissions and there’s nothing little old you can do anyway? 

I’ve done all these things.

I’ve also bought entirely unnecessary Halloween decorations because they were cheap and it was “only a couple” and how much impact can little old me’s few Halloween decorations have in the grand scheme of things?

I’ve noted how my apartment block neighbours can’t be bothered to differentiate between the communal green and black bins and fumed that if Fintan in number 43 doesn’t separate his bran flakes boxes from his pesto jars then what is the point in little old me even trying? Maybe Fintan saw my yoghurt pot going into the black bin and had the same thought about me. Maybe I’m being unfair to Fintan and he, like me, goes through peaks and troughs of trying his best to help the planet.

It has suited me to be told it’s Big Oil or Big Plastic or Big Red Meat that needs to step up and step back. That’s made me feel better about owning a car with an internal combustion engine and flying a couple of times a year

The peaks coincide with belief in the messaging that the small actions of many can really have an impact. The troughs go hand in hand with despair around a lack of systemic change and forceful policy decisions and empty-sounding multi-nation protocols with lengthy lead-in times and no accountability.

The peaks see me confident that just as the processes of fossil fuel industries trickle down to objects I use every day, my refusal to use those objects will climb back up to thwart those industries. The troughs remind me it’s a vicious cycle of supply and demand and I’ll never get off the hamster wheel. 

I’m a consumer who so far has had a fair to middling attitude to personal responsibility when it comes to climate change. It has suited me to be told it’s Big Oil or Big Plastic or Big Red Meat that needs to step up and step back. That’s made me feel better about owning a car with an internal combustion engine and flying a couple of times a year.

At the same time I’ve scaled my hypocritical high horse about Instagram influencers and the acres of promotional tat and Penneys hauls and resolved to never let a shred of single-use anything come into my house again – oh, except for the packaging on this punnet of blueberries I got for my breakfast and this sparkling water I needed to survive a hangover and these disposable kitchen wipes that claim to kill 99 per cent of germs and are just a nice handy treat once in a while when the cloth in the sink is threatening an environmental catastrophe of its own.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m a climate terrorist and no amount of recycled Whiskas boxes are going to make up for the fact that I can’t find a viable way to be eco-friendly about cat litter. I’ve tried to convince the cat to do all her business outside, but it would be easier to get the world to give up Big Macs than to get a cat to comply with anything, ever. 

We can’t all do everything, but we can’t all do nothing either, especially those who can afford to do something because God knows what’s sustainable in the long term is expensive in the short

While black and white messaging around climate action and responsibility persists – “the failing health of the earth is simply too much for any individual to bear” versus “we all must do our bit to enact meaningful change” – it seems glaringly obvious that we must all meet on middle ground.

I know I must commit to small and meaningful efforts aimed at energy efficiency and waste reduction. I must match individual action with an interest in advocacy all the way up to systemic change. I must move past the scapegoated plastic straws and the problems of Extinction Rebellion and see the value in both daily change and civil resistance.

We can’t all do everything, but we can’t all do nothing either, especially those who can afford to do something because God knows what’s sustainable in the long term is expensive in the short.

We can’t shrug and say, “I guess the planet is f**ked”, and share another meme about how everything is on fire and we’re just binge watching Squid Game while the curtains burn. We can’t roll our eyes at the ones who are trying harder or trying their hardest. We can’t fight against cycle lanes and bully in gas-guzzlers. 

What can we do then? We can expect and enact changes in our lives. We can lead by example. We can care and hope. We can wash out the yoghurt carton, leave it to dry, and go and protest. We can.