How should we feel about trying to save the planet?
A joke has been doing the rounds again on Facebook. It’s a conversation between two people: the first one says, “Wakey wakey eggs and bakey.” The second ones says, “But I’m a vegan” and the first one replies, “Wakey wakey vegetables and sadness.”
It’s a joke about how delicious bacon is, right? It’s a joke about how vegans are depriving themselves of good things because they’re… what? Sanctimonious? A lot of things like this aren’t funny unless some people think they’re true, and when I read this joke for the umpteenth time I suddenly realised that at some level it’s about this post, which I have been trying to write for a while.
When I write or talk about wanting to change my lifestyle to have a lower carbon footprint, there are people who are supportive and people who aren’t – but in both groups, I find there are some people who want to tell me how to feel.
(Hint: telling me – or probably anyone – what I should feel about anything is basically a hiding to nothing. That has, in my experience, never stopped anyone trying.)
There are the people who want me to be happy, and as a consequence suggest that I should eat eggs/bacon/whatever makes them happy. (Here’s a food which makes me happy: Linda MacCartney sausage rolls. Vegetables and sadness indeed!) There are people who want me to be happy, and as a consequence are very worried that I might be feeling guilty about something. (A bit of guilt isn’t that bad. If it’s crippling or out of proportion, that’s a problem. If it’s information for the decision-making process about the cons as well as the pros of, for example, flying across the Atlantic for a conference, then it’s just that – information.) There are the people who don’t want to do whatever I am doing or proposing to do at that moment, and consequently need me to admit that whatever it is does or would make me feel bad. (The people who couldn’t live without a car are a good example. Does being a non-driver affect my transport choices? Absolutely. Do I dislike it? Only when some ridiculous planning scheme means there’s no way to get to the cinema by public transport. You know who you are, Silly Local Council and Failure of a Bus Service.) And there are the people who want me to be happy, and consequently want me not to worry my pretty little head about the environment, and definitely not to make the difficult lifestyle changes which actually cutting one’s carbon footprint might demand.
I am experimenting with the following radical proposal: it’s okay to choose to do things which make me feel bad sometimes. As outlined above, a lot of the things which people think would be difficult actually aren’t – being a vegan does not equate directly to sadness if you eat a wide range of plant-based foods instead, and not owning a car does not equate directly to loneliness if you are able to access a good public transport system. But some things are still difficult – refusing to fly to see friends, for example, when that would be cheaper or even the only way to make it possible. And that’s okay. That’s a case where I’m clearly allowed to choose, and there comes a point at which I’d rather name and own, and respect, that sadness than have the guilt of flying when I didn’t really need to. Guilt that someone would probably tell me I shouldn’t be feeling.
Next time someone says that sort of thing to me, maybe I’ll ask them: whose feelings are you trying to control? Mine? Or yours?