Washing Your Dirty Laundry

Washing Your Dirty Laundry

Last week my Facebook feed was filled with links reporting on the findings of a recent study listing four major actions that is impacting your CO2 footprint. The study got a lot of attention because the most influential one, far surpassing not having a car, skipping a cross-Atlantic flight and keeping a vegetarian diet, was the impact of having one child less, which suddenly took life-style choices for reducing your environmental impact to a new level. To choose bike before car and veggies before beef have a positive impact not only on the environment but also for your own health and economy so they should be easy ones. Having a child is somehow more deeply rooted in the human mind.

Many people, especially young people who has grown up with ongoing climate change and a sense of approaching catastrophe, feel a strong urge to do something to hinder it. At the same time we are aware that through a complex global economic system our own actions are contributing to this crisis with the result that we feel guilty. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek exemplifies that by paying a few cents extra for the organic coffee at Starbucks we are paying off that guilt. Similarly, carbon offsetting schemes have been compared to the Catholic church’s option in the past to buy absolutions (which basically paved the way for the Reformation, just saying). Investments in clean energy to cover up for your weekend flight to a European capital is a sort of green-washing of our troubled minds.

We also shouldn’t forget that there is a certain social pressure to be a good citizen. By buying local, organic and to recycle you are showing to the people around you that you are a good person. In certain social environments it would be a huge stigma to openly declare that you do not believe in sorting your garbage. So, are we doing these things just to feel better, telling ourselves that we are doing something while in fact it’s just rituals with little impact?

It has been argued that the focus on perfecting our own consumption patterns is keeping us from joining forces to put pressure on governments and corporations for more drastic change. This thought makes me think of the movie The Hunger Games which depicts a dystopic society where the poor citizens are set out to compete with each other in a sort of combined entertainment for and exercise of power by the ruling class where the winners are rewarded with all sorts of riches. The heroine Catniss however realises the uselessness in fighting your neighbours and with only one competitor left instead of shooting him, she lifts her arch and sends an arrow that destroys the roof that covers the game arena, while in her mind echoes the words: Remember who the real enemy is.