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I credit environmentalism for many of the wonderful things in my life – it’s the reason why I became vegetarian, adopted a more minimalist mindset and made a bunch of awesome, eco-conscious friends. It taught me how to appreciate the amazing life I have access to, and made me become more aware of how my actions affected the world.

But there was something less wonderful that came about with my new understanding, and that was environmental guilt. It would strike me in the most random of places – at the café, whenever I bought my coffee in a paper cup; at the supermarket, when I picked up a bottle of coke; or at home, if I happened to see any food that I had to throw out. Where there had once been blissful ignorance, now lurked my guilty conscience.

In a way this was a good thing – it meant that I’d hopped off the consumerism hype train, and was now taking full responsibility for my actions. After all, with all the climate change the world is facing, we need more people to do that, right?

I wasn’t the poster child for eco-friendly living – I wasn’t vegan, or zero-waste, and I didn’t host major climate protests.

Yet environmental guilt also made me feel exasperated and sad. I questioned whether my mistakes made me a terrible person, because despite my best efforts – despite eating plant-based meals, and volunteering, and being conscious with my purchases – I still came to the same disheartening conclusion: I wasn’t (and would likely never be) the perfect environmentalist. I wasn’t the poster child for eco-friendly living – I wasn’t vegan, or zero-waste, and I didn’t host major climate protests. I was just an ordinary girl trying her best; I worked to maintain my green habits, whilst also running the rest of my life.

This was when I ran into an issue – I wasn’t just trying to excel at eco-friendly living; I was also trying to be a good student, have a social life, get some exercise in, maintain a healthy diet… oh, and remember to call my mom at least twice a week. In short, I was trying to do it all. And (lo and behold) that meant that I couldn’t do it all perfectly all of the time.

Even when I did try my hardest, priorities would have to take place. I’d grab a ready-made dinner because I had been at the library until late. Or I’d eat out with friends and completely forget about whatever food I needed to use up at home, therefore letting it go bad. Eighty percent of the time, I still observed my eco-friendly principles. But it was those twenty percent of slip-ups that gnawed at me.

Why is it that with environmentalism, we all feel like either sinners or saints?

I couldn’t help but wonder if other people had experienced that same sense of pressure related to environmentalism. I raised the question with some of my more eco-conscious friends, and found out that many of them felt the same.  Rosa, a friend of mine who studies Environmental Sciences at uni, said that she often felt guilty for “not doing enough” because she couldn’t single-handedly elicit climate policy change.

At TBYW, many of my team members also shared that they felt bad for making mistakes and compromising their green habits. “Last week I went on a trip to Spain and had to travel by plane,” our team coordinator, Izzie, said. “And I was like ‘Urghh, I feel so guilty about this!’”

A quick Google search showed me that my friends and I weren’t alone in our struggles. There were numerous articles, both academic and personal, dealing with the topic of environmental guilt. In fact, the phenomenon had become so popular that official terms like “green guilt” and “Environmental Guilt Syndrome” had been coined to describe it.

But why is it that with environmentalism, we all feel like either sinners or saints?

You used a plastic straw? That’s it, you’re an eco terrorist now.

Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the near- authoritarian tone that can sometimes surround environmental discourse. Especially online, we often hear people throwing the blame around, or read articles that leave us crippled with guilt. Such media often makes us feel like every error we make is fatal, like anything short of perfection is not enough.

You put some honey in your tea? You should be ashamed for not being vegan. You used a plastic straw? That’s it, you’re an eco terrorist now.

Such abusive environmentalism often justifies itself by referring to the dire state of the planet. “The Earth is dying,” they scream. “There’s no room for mistakes!”

our guilt won’t save the planet

Yes, the Earth is dying, but these people are forgetting a vital thing – mistakes happen, whether we like it or not. For most of us, perfect green living is an unfeasibly high bar – one that serves to demotivate us more than anything. Our lives and, yes – human imperfection – get in the way, and we don’t always manage to act in the most eco-friendly of ways.

However, lynching ourselves over that isn’t going to fix it; our guilt won’t save the planet. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we all become complacent, and never try to improve our harmful habits. I’m simply saying that eco-responsibility shouldn’t (and doesn’t have to!) equal feeling burdened with environmental guilt.

Perfectionism can elicit a sense of desperation that can makes us give up – what’s the point of persevering if we’re never going to be good enough? Having a guilty conscience paralizes us and prevents us from learning from our errors. By learning to accept our mistakes instead, we can see environmentally-friendly living as a learning curve – the longer we do it, the better we’ll become at it. We can understand that we’ll never be perfect, and that’s ok. If we keep putting in our best effort most of the time, the impact of our positive action will outweigh the damage done by our mistakes.

Another issue with environmental guilt is that it (over)burdens a few, whilst allowing many others to go unaccountable. “Individual changes make a difference, but we also shouldn’t forget to hold leaders and big companies accountable for their actions,” our TBYW general coordinator, Lara, said. “We shouldn’t get stuck in blaming ourselves and others for not doing enough – as we seen in the UN report, a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global CO2 emissions.”

If we can deal away with our guilty consciences, we can instead focus our energy on the positives of environmentalism, and turn eco-friendly living into something we really enjoy.

Research shows that while guilt is effective in eliciting action from those who already care about an issue, it does little for the ones who don’t. This means that if we want more people to improve their habits, guilt-tripping them into environmentalism isn’t the way to go – something you already know if you’ve tried convincing your parents to have a meat-free day.

By keeping shame at the forefront of environmental discourse, we keep increasing the pressure on those who are already doing their best, whilst simultaneously not addressing (or potentially even scaring away!) any potential newcomers. Instead, we should strive to create a positive conversation where everyone feels welcomed to give eco-friendly living a shot.

Guilt is a terrible motivator to do anything, and environmentalism is no different. When we’re triggered by guilt, we act from a place of obligation – we’re doing things because we think that we have to, not because we want to. Consequently, we miss everything that’s so wonderful about green living – the comfort of cooking from scratch, the fun of exploring thrift shops and flea markets, the joy of finding like-minded eco-conscious individuals. If we can deal away with our guilty consciences, we can instead focus our energy on the positives of environmentalism, and turn eco-friendly living into something we really enjoy.

Leaving shame behind can be the best thing you do for your environmental journey. Without environmental guilt, you can focus on what’s truly good about green living, and enjoy the experience. On top of that, you will also be better able to look at your slip-ups with objectivity and compassion – in fact, you’ll probably be excited to learn from them and do better next time!

Taste Before You Waste has always stood for making small, individual acts of change that can build up to create a greater difference. We believe that engaging in thoughtful consumerism in even the smallest ways day-to-day can have a lasting impact on our food- and ecosystems.

Still, while such personal efforts do matter, there is something to be said about supporting direct civil activism through demonstrations and demanding political change – especially in dire times like these, when a global eco-crisis impends on us with every passing day.

In light of the upcoming Rebellion Week on October 7, 2019, we have decided to share with you some of the most accessible and effective ways to engage in eco-activism.

Maybe you have been wanting to make a change for a while now, but have felt unsure of where to start. Or maybe, you had simply never given it a thought until now. In either case, this guide will give you some easy, actionable steps to help you begin on your eco-activist journey.

Keep up with local activism and join its initiatives
The first – and most important – step is to get acquainted with which activism groups are active in your area. Do your research – browse their websites, read their mission statements, and see if there are any that resonate with you. Look up and join some of their events to get a feel for how they approach their objectives.

Found an activist group that you like and want to get involved?
Offer to help organize their events – most groups are always searching for more volunteers, and are eager to receive a helping hand.

Looking for a place to start?
Here’s a list of some of the eco- and food activism groups that are active in Amsterdam to get you started on your exploration:

  • TBYW Activism Group – A division of TBYW that offers free catering to activist events and demonstrations – our goal is to literally “feed the movement”
  • Extinction Rebellion – An organization that started out in the UK and then spread globally, Extinction Rebellion uses “non-violent civil disobedience” to raise awareness about the horrifying ecological crisis our planet is facing
    https://extinctionrebellion.nl/en/
  • Fridays for Future – An international movement that aims to initiate political action against climate change
    https://fridaysforfuture.nl/
  • ASEED Europe (Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Diversity Europe) – An initiative which started out in Amsterdam and spread out across the continent, ASEED Europe strives to involve youth in changing climate policies
    https://aseed.net/en/

Speak at city council meetings
Many people don’t know this, but you can address environmental policy changes directly with the authorities by attending your local city council meetings. Most city councils make their meetings open to the general public, and have a time slot allotted in the beginning where citizens can share their concerns. The city council of Amsterdam meets once every three weeks –you can find their meeting schedule, as well as other relevant information, on https://www.amsterdam.nl/en/governance/city-council/.

Write a letter to local political leaders
Should you want to directly contact authorities, you can also try sending a letter to local political figures who you think are capable of initiating change, or who you want to call accountable for their actions. You can find a list of information and contact details for all current Amsterdam governing body members on the city website.
https://amsterdam.raadsinformatie.nl/leden
https://www.amsterdam.nl/en/governance/mayor-alderpersons/

Spread the word
Spreading the word about environmentalism is perhaps the easiest way to engage in eco-activism by far. Talk to your friends about it, and encourage them to adopt more eco-friendly habits. Invite someone to join you the next time you go to a protest, or ask them to volunteer together at an event (cooking for the TBYW dinners makes for a great pastime activity!). Share activist demonstrations on Facebook to help them gain traction, and re-post environmental articles that might resonate with people.

Use your voice – both on- and offline – to share the ideas you think people should hear.

Looking for a place to start? Join the International Rebellion Week on October 7
The International Rebellion Week, hosted by Extinction Rebellion, will start on October 7, 2019 and will take place in several major cities across the globe. The protestors will peacefully occupy central urban areas to raise awareness about the pressing urgency of climate change.

In Amsterdam, the demonstration will start in the early morning of October 7 at Museumbrug. TBYW will be supporting the initiative by supplying free catering for all of its participants, providing food we have prepared from rescued produce.

Each person’s presence matters, and every voice helps to reinforce the demand – so, if you have been meaning to become an activist, perhaps this is your place to start.

https://rebellion.earth/international-rebellion/?fbclid=IwAR2IXJrf4m2rGxV0bkUxuARjxjLWtpqsRqV7rXEeZfB79Dhq13oKdzF5lbQ
https://www.facebook.com/events/1877626222340263/