Mistakes, choices, goods and wrongs are just part of our journey to live more sustainably. Here are some of the most common challenges we all face, to realise you are not alone. FACT!
There’s no denying that contemporary ways of life are at odds with nature. Humanity as a whole is so far removed from its roots that our mere (some would say parasitic) existence threatens our survival on planet Earth.
And yes, many of us are trying to do our best to minimize our footprint, consume less, choose eco-friendly alternatives, and lead greener lives. But here’s the deal: no matter how hard we try, there’s no avoiding the fact that almost every single one of our green choices comes down to picking between the lesser of two evils.
So the question remains: Is the wrong thing done for the right reasons still wrong?
Well, as anyone who has ever done even a smidge of eco-friendly research knows, the answer is far from simple.
Becoming an Expert
The defeating fact about adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle is that we’re all bound to make mistakes. And not just when we’re starting. Even after we’ve spent years doing something we thought was the better choice, we can find ourselves suddenly realizing we’ve done something wrong.
For example, some people will switch to paper to replace plastic. Others will shop for green versions of their favorite products. Some might even change their diets and completely exclude animal products. Yet in all of these actions, there lurks the possibility of doing more bad than good.
You see, the thing is, green living in a contemporary setting comes down to research and education. And the defeating fact is, we must research every single choice we make within a day.
Where is our food grown? How does our local power supplier produce electricity? Do we purge our closet and invest in pieces made of organic cotton, hemp, and linen? Or do we wear our remaining fast fashion items as long as possible? Will we lessen our carbon footprint if we purchase an electric vehicle? Will the resources that go into making that same vehicle exceed what we would otherwise create?
For anyone willing to make a change, it comes as no surprise that research, information, and patience are of the essence. But what happens when we inevitably become overwhelmed by the data?
Learned Helplessness and Decision Fatigue
When I first started becoming interested in zero-waste living, I was so overcome with the amount of conflicting data that I joined a support group. And I don’t think I was alone in feeling bombarded with information.
Even the most determined eco-activists may find themselves cutting corners from time to time. And it’s not their fault. We’re psychologically built that way.
The idea of a looming ecological crisis doesn’t only cause anxiety. It can also lead to a state called learned helplessness – a phenomenon in which people get such negative feelings towards situations outside their control that they find it easier to wash their hands of doing anything. After all, if you’re the only person on your street composting their kitchen waste, you might find yourself thinking: what’s the point anyway?
And, then, there’s the other commonly faced problem by anyone looking for green living, and that’s decision fatigue.
You see, when we’re forced to make informed choices over and over again, our energy levels start to slip, bit by bit. Sure, we may be all for switching to homestyle cooking on a Sunday afternoon. But come Thursday, and we’re so exhausted we just want the easiest option out there, even if it’s takeout packaged in non-recyclable containers.
The most common consequence of such a state of overwhelm is procrastination. We put off making the decision, despite knowing that the choice is solving nothing. The other way out is impulsive behavior – giving in and purchasing the most convenient option.
I have recently found myself in this position.
While I was planning my children’s bedrooms, searching for green bed options, I suddenly found out that great mattresses aren’t just made to last. To my utter surprise, I learned that some companies are selling organic products of this kind.
As soon as I came across this piece of information, an internal debate started. Do I purchase a brand new organic mattress and have it shipped thousands of miles? Do I buy a local product that may not use the same quality of materials? Do I toss in the towel and have the little rugrats sleep on a blanket-covered hardwood floor?
How can we make informed, eco-conscious decisions, when the simple fact is that we’ll never be 100% right?
The Weight of Our Choices
The path to a green planet is full of forks in the road. After every few steps, we’re forced to make a resolution.
And the fact is, there is absolutely no way that we can avoid being in the wrong. After all, having full insight into the weight of each of our decisions would require having several PhDs, access to countless amounts of information, and an inexhaustible supply of time and energy. The last time I checked, that’s impossible.
So what is it that we can do?
Well, we can start small. We can commit to educating ourselves. We can also remind ourselves to keep an open mind and be ready to change. Perhaps most importantly, we need to learn how to accept the reality of human nature, which is that we’re imperfect.
Instead of beating ourselves up over mistakes, we might get further by committing to pay attention to what we can improve in the future. We can also try to come up with systems that will prevent us from repeating our errors. Finally, we might do well to allow ourselves time for each decision.
In the end, we don’t need to do everything at once.
The Way Forward
Eco-friendly lifestyles, like everything else we encounter, have both positive and negative aspects. And that means there’s no simple choice. Living an ascetic life is one option. Still, we probably shouldn’t sacrifice our mental or physical health for the sake of being perfectly green.
So, you might be asking yourself, how do you proceed? What do you do?
Well, it’s simple. You do the best that you can at the moment with the information and means you have access to. That’s all you can expect from yourself.