Why environmental protection can be a pain in the ass and what to do about it

I usually don’t buy coffee to go. And when I do, I never have anything with me to put it in, so I just get a deposable cup.

Until today.

I just started a new job at a University and I knew I won’t be able to get a cup of coffee in the office. So I decided to bring my reusable thermo-cup and fill it up in a café nearby.

Right before I approached the café, I got a little caught up in my thoughts. What would the lady behind the counter think when I bring my own cup? Will she think I am a weirdo? Will she say no?

I put the thoughts aside and got my coffee in my own cup.

And yes, she seemed a little confused over it and gave me a look like “Why are you being a pain in my ass?” But she did what I asked for nonetheless.

This isn’t always the case.

When we try to act sustainably we get in awkward situations all the time.

Because we act differently to the norm.

Acting out of the norm is not necessarily regarded as a bad thing. It depends on the context.

If you win in the lottery and you buy yourself a Yacht, you are acting out of the norm and it’s considered cool.

But if you act sustainably it often goes hand in hand with consuming less, and consuming less is associated with cheap, anti-social behaviour.

  • If you decide to wear the same clothes until they are worn down, the immediate association is poverty.
  • If you don’t eat the meatloaf your friend made, the immediate association is that you don’t join in.
  • If you decide you don’t want to fly across the world for a one-week vacation, the immediate association is that you are boring and not adventurous.

These associations are not necessarily conscious. a lot of them happen on an unconscious level, due to years of following specific social norms. So it doesn’t matter, if you do the sustainable action, like consuming less, on purpose, or if you are forced to consume less because you have no money, on the outside, both actions appear the same. And not having enough money is considered lower class, less worths in our society.

So in order to have your behaviour accepted, you have to explain.

But explaining is first of all exhausting, and second of all, people don’t like to be lectured. So you pretty much have no option but to shut up.

The result is, that from acting sustainably we get the same, or a very similar, reaction as we get when we “don’t belong”.

And this is where the key problem lies.

Not belonging is one of the greatest fears of human beings. We are social creatures that thrive on connecting with other people.

Acting sustainability makes us outsiders – at first sight.

Some people might not understand our actions and decisions.

They might judge us for what we do. But giving in to the judgement is the worst thing we can do.

Why?

Two reasons.

Reason #1:

If we don’t stick to what we believe in, we don’t only because harm the planet, but but also ourselves.Because if we don’t act according to our values,

  • our actions make us feel bad
  • our mood goes down
  • and it can even make us depressed in the long run.

In psychology this is called cognitive dissonance.

“It’s the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.”

So the best thing you can do is to stick to what you believe in, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable in the short run, it’s rewarding in the long run. It’s kind of like when being on a diet. If you stick to it, you’ll feel better.

What’s the best way to do that?

First of all you need to be present. so you notice what you feel in which situations and you can act consciously about it.

Second, find a community that shares your values. They’ll make you feel like a normal person and support you in your decisions.

Third, keep reminding yourself why you do what you do. If you don’t, you’ll lose motivation.

Reason #2: 

You are an “early adopter”, that belongs to a small avant-garde of people. Instead of feeling ashamed – embarrass it.

Like the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) said

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

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