By Nete Green Johannsen, CMO at Matter
Our dialogue about the sustainable choices we make has become negative. When my sister in law said no thank you to meat at the company Christmas dinner, one of her colleagues asked her if she had become a climate snowflake. Climate snowflake? What does that even mean?! When I took the train to Switzerland, a guy I know also said: “Is it that climate bullshit?”.
The sarcastic comments go both ways. You can easily be met with a judgmental look, if you reach out for a plastic cup in the wrong circles. I have very often experienced criticism when I haven’t been “sustainable enough” according to other’s beliefs.
Why has our dialogue about climate and sustainability become so judgmental? And what effect does the negative conversation have on our personal relation to the climate crisis?
We all react differently to climate issues
Right now, we need to change the way in which we are living in a drastic way to avoid a climate disaster. The institutions we trusted haven’t delivered the necessary solutions and many of us are therefore trying to fight the climate battle on an individual level. We do that by changing our diet, taking fewer flights and, increasingly, setting new demands for our pension companies.
But the personal initiatives often attract negative attention. Even though we should raise our voice and be critical towards states’ and companies’ promises of change (or lack thereof), I think, when we turn against each other as individuals with sarcastic comments, we are failing in this mission.
The thing is that we all react differently. The threat is real, but we are in different places when it comes to our realisation of and perception of the crisis.
For those who have changed their habits in a sustainable direction it can seem frustrating when others do not do the same. On the other hand, for those who haven’t made the decision to change their habits, seemingly critical comments from peers can appear provocative and condescending.
So how do we cope with the fact that others do not have the same opinion or do the same as us?
Climate-shaming creates polarisation
I personally don’t think that shaming is the way forward. We need to try to understand each other no matter what. Some climate activists are going to disagree with this and say that we don’t have the time to accept to those who are not contributing to making a change.
But our attempt to live more sustainably will not be made easier by people wrinkling their noses at our efforts or lack thereof. That makes changing habits feel a lot more like a battle than a transition.
I think that mutual respect is a step in the right direction. If we can bear with each other even when we make different choices, have different knowledge and opinions, we might be able to talk more openly and inspire each other in the right direction?
We could start by replacing “Are you also a climate snowflake now?!” with “Tell me more. What made you stop eating meat?”.