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Climate anxiety February 20, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Sheer bloody-mindedness, Small things, University.

Quite a long time ago, I had an idea for a story that ended up manifesting itself as a script, about a girl who has all kinds of things wrong with her essentially because she’s terrified about the rest of the world.  She wouldn’t eat anything because someone else could have eaten it, or else the carbon footprint was too high.  She lashed out at anyone around her who tried to turn on a light, or a radiator, she unplugged the fridge and washed herself with cold water.  She couldn’t look at a plastic bag, or any direct evidence of someone shopping for anything.  She cried when her exceptionally patient partner took a bus anywhere, and she wouldn’t let a car near the house.  She felt very guilty, all of the time, for things that she shouldn’t be doing, or things that she could be doing better.  I called her Claire and she lived in my head for a month or so as I wrote about her.  Alright, so it’s a bit pop-environment conscious, but it’s still the sort of problem that I’m surprised not to have heard of somebody having.

Not long after I wrote that particular story, I came across a paragraph or two online about an eating disorder similar to anorexia that was based around things being good for you – people who can’t eat something unless they are convinced that it’s entirely healthy, or organic, or local.  This is a few years ago.  I’ve never heard of it since.

These are things that we should be doing more about, and that we get drummed into us a lot.  These are things that it’s easy to be conscious of all the time.  I remember for a good year or so, because of various influences, feeling very guilty about having lights on at all in any room with nobody in it, and more than one light on in rooms with people in.  I still go around and turn them off, but it was for a bit that I couldn’t go to sleep without wandering around the whole house and making sure everything was off, turning the televisions off at the wall (which used to annoy my parents no end), then going into my room and unplugging my extension leads and digital radio.

What I’m saying is that it’s easy to get paranoid about Doing Your Bit, and watch yourself all the time.  And that I’m surprised not to have heard of more people who take it to extremes.  Maybe they just do it quietly.

Nowadays, I just get a bit panicky when I feel like I have too much responsibility.  Maybe that explains a few things.

ETA:  I found it.  It’s called orthorexia nervosa and it’s on the rise.  It hits pretty close to home, actually, but I can’t tell if that’s because it actually does, or if it’s in the way that you feel perfectly normal until you take a quiz online and are suddenly convinced you have OCD, chronic anxiety and a mild case of borderline personality disorder.  Possibly not something to discuss online with the world, though.



1. Dickie - February 20, 2010

The individual accountability for things like climate change is actually pretty small. Yes behaviours could change and they would save some energy, but the real consumer of energy is industry. Which arguably is partially driven by the demands of consumers, but there are still ways of regulating that industry better,

2. Lucy - February 20, 2010

Doesn’t stop personal guilt.

3. Callan - February 21, 2010

Turning off the TV at the wall is a good thing to do.

4. gflawrence - February 21, 2010

I think it’s more about setting an example. It’s sheer hypocrisy to complain that the government isn’t doing enough when you’re behaving in an ecologically unfriendly fashion as well. The buck has got to stop somewhere. Even if you argue that it’s not our generation’s fault, it’s not my responsibility – the consequences are still going to be your problem. Being wasteful is unnecessary apart from anything else, even if you’re willing to pass the buck onto factories and things like that. They stay running because we don’t care enough to stop them running.
I can’t see what’s wrong with switching off lights in empty rooms and using canvas bags etc. It doesn’t hurt you, it helps the environment and it saves you money on electric bills. Where is there an argument against it?!

5. Dickie - February 21, 2010

“Being wasteful is unnecessary apart from anything else, even if you’re willing to pass the buck onto factories and things like that.”
It’s not ‘passing the buck’ at all! If individuals completely stopped producing waste, then the total amount of waste produced wouldn’t fall *that* much, because industry creates the bulk of it. Looking at solid wastes for instance, according to a report from the ICE, about 23% of the waste in a typical landfill comes from household waste. 60% comes from construction and I’d suggest that more gains can be made by improving processes there and in other industries, than can made by focussing on households (not to mention that industry is often better equipped to make larger changes – they have more money!). This issue is largely ignored though.

Look at transport too. The proportion of emissions from individuals is a tiny amount compared to the emissions from industry. Turning the TV off at the wall is small fry compared to the emissions caused by the oil burned by the bloody massive freight ship used to transport it to you…

Now of course industry emissions are high partly because of consumer demands (we want cheaper goods), so a good way of tackling them would be to change consumer behaviours. Get people to buy stuff made nearer to them rather than something made on the other side of the world, for instance. Or impose more taxes on imported goods, but that’s a fairly dangerous game for obvious reasons.

And I don’t think anyone is arguing that individuals shouldn’t do what they can. Just that too much emphasis is placed on individual responsibility (and “guilt” 8-), but actually that is completely misplaced and simply clouds the issue.

Of course the issue isn’t just reducing waste too and improving efficiency. We need to find sustainable ways to make energy, but whenever engineers suggest something which would make a real difference and go way to solving the problem, some part of the environmental lobby protests. The Severn Barrage is a great example – brilliant idea and it’d provide a shitload of power (as well as alleviate flooding up the Severn, which is a non-trivial problem in itself), but stupid environmentalists are protesting it on really really shaky grounds. Fail.

6. Flix - March 17, 2010

Hearing that those climate change/nursery rhyme adverts got banned reminded me of this entry.

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