Positive Responses to Green Guilt
 Positive Responses to Green Guilt

Guilt and Anxiety about the Environment

The modern lifestyle is fundamentally unnatural.


Time is short and most environmentally responsible activities are time consuming, or inconvenient, or both. You make compromises. You trade a positive contribution to the future of the planet for some trivial convenience.


You feel guilt.


Confronted by a bewildering array of contradictory information and options which all seem the most ethically sound in some way, you do something which seems useful but then you start to have doubts. Did you really do the right thing? Did you consider the options carefully enough, given the importance of your decision? The dilemmas seem impossible to resolve.


You feel anxiety.


Or maybe the options are all so confusing and contradictory that you don't know what to do. Each individual message about some different aspect of the global environmental catastrophe feeds your anxiety. Fixing one problem breaks something else. Combined with the ethical dilemmas, this all creates an unhealthy synergy.


An apparently inescapable spiral of information overload, dilemmas, guilt and anxiety.


While the spiral goes round, you are fed even more information but your decision making processes are paralysed - you actually do less while the problem seems to be growing all the time.


And you can't do all this on your own - you need to set a good example to your family, friends and colleagues but your inaction does just the opposite. You aren't doing as much as you need to, or encouraging other people to do what they need to.


Your response feels frustratingly inadequate


Ethical dilemmas

Dilemmas start with an apparently simple choice which quickly becomes very tricky.


Is carbon offset just shifting the problem somewhere else?


Is the environmental impact of buying a 100g packet of beans from Africa worse than the impact of a 10 kg bag of potatoes from Europe?


How much packaging is too much? How do you balance the environmental impact of food waste caused by inadequate packaging against the impact of the packaging itself?


If you fly on holiday and your children see more of the world, might they feel more responsible for it?


Is it worse to put window envelopes in the rubbish or the paper recycling, if you haven’t got time to tear out the windows? What about if you stay up late with the lights on separating the envelopes from the windows, which uses more energy?


What about disposing of low energy light bulbs which contain toxic chemicals? What is the total life cycle impact?


Saving fuel is good for climate change around the world, but what if that means you pollute the air with particulates which are very bad for people where you live?


Carbon emissions could be reduced by nuclear power but there’s the risk of a meltdown or leak, and waste that is radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. What about the carbon footprint of building the nuclear power station?


Or you can’t really work out whether it’s better to buy non-organic local produce or organic stuff from miles away; or flowers grown in tropical sunshine and flown over, as opposed to being grown in a greenhouse in Europe?


Should you buy fair trade or organic bananas, if you can only find one or the other?


Read more about ethical dilemmas in our blog:

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