The Struggle of Living Sustainably in a Society That Supports It in Word But Opposes It in Deed
I indulged in posting a first draft of something I feel important to share, probably overly bitter or snarky. Acting against the mainstream always makes life difficult, though differently for choosing different directions. I chose to act sustainably and to lead others to. Here are the challenges acting in this direction create.
You can read into it as much as you like, but mostly it’s a rough sketch of something I’ll develop more and believe that posting it publicly will help me develop it more, faster.
I donâ€™t remember another time being treated as stupid or misunderstood as much as since Iâ€™ve tried living sustainably. People lecture me on things any idiot would know as if I must not know. People tell me they understand me as they say things about me describing a caricature of me.
I would mind less if the mistreatment came from people other than my mom, my dad, my stepfather, liberals who purport to promote sustainability, or environmentalists. If you choose to try to live sustainably, soon there will be enough of us that they donâ€™t treat us like stupid fucking morons or make halfhearted attempts to understand us at best, but for now, you better love nature, stewardship, and helping others, because society will say it supports you as it mistreats you without realizing it.
Donâ€™t believe me? Find someone who says he or she supports sustainability and compare that support not against their opinion or feeling but actual level of pollution. Now tell them how much you enjoy living sustainably and hear them talk about how itâ€™s impossible, you have special abilities you donâ€™t, or some beliefs that their pollution doesnâ€™t pollute or the like. I presume you live sustainably, or at least try. If so, what they say will conflict with your experience that they donâ€™t have, yet will claim expertise it.
People talk about wanting to right injustices. Many march for justice and climate, if not to help restore Earthâ€™s ability to sustain life in general. Many protest inequality. How many change their lives when their behavior contributes to the problem?
People say they value travel for experiencing other cultures, cuisines, and people. Living sustainably puts you in a different culture, requires different cuisine, and puts you in touch with different people. Itâ€™s like moving across the globe and backward in time, as well as forward, I hope. Itâ€™s cheaper and faster to ride a bike, forage locally, go to farmers markets, or camp in your own back yard than to fly or even drive anywhere, yet people who deprive themselves and work extra for months to spend thousands of dollars to travel for days will tell you vegetables from a farmers market cost too much and take too much time. They will tell you cooking beans in a pressure cooker is privileged but flying to Africa, undermining a local economy, and polluting its wilderness is being a good citizen.
Sometimes to my face, but more often in writing, my ideas and I have been called racist, sexist, fascist, ecofascist, socialist, pointless, and out of touch. Iâ€™ve been treated as ignorant, stupid, and a stooge. Most of those insults people throw around at people they disagree with like candy. Iâ€™ve learned that insults describe the person saying them, not their target, which explains that ones that people say the most: privileged and hypocritical. People appear to be deeply struggling. They see the damage that pollution causes. They see they are polluting. They donâ€™t meaningfully change. They still want to sleep comfortably at night. My read: they subconsciously conclude itâ€™s easier to say they canâ€™t change themselves or their world to reach sustainability.
As we all do, they construct stories and world views that become their reality and reject ones that conflict with it. Stories and views run along the lines of â€œwhat one person does doesnâ€™t matter,â€ â€œsustainable costs more and only rich people can afford it,â€ â€œonly governments and corporations can make a difference on the scale we need,â€ and â€œtechnology will help.â€ Many more.
Someone who does what seem impossible according to their stories and views conflict with their reality. Again, their subconscious finds it easier to say that person is wrong, stupid, etc, than to face the challenge of constructing new world views. The greater problem is looking back and seeing you could have changed earlier if not for the lies you told yourself, accepting that inside you knew they were lies but preferred meat, flying, leaving the air conditioner on when no one was home so you could feel it comfortable the moment you walked in, and so on.
People like to lecture me. Theyâ€™re telling me their world views.
From the left: white people have it easier than non-white, or as they put it: black, brown, indigenous, and people of color. Men have it easier than women. Straight people have it easier than non-straight, or as they put it: LGBTQIA+. Cis easier than trans.
(I remind you, Iâ€™m telling you what they lecture me on. If I sound simplistic or like I donâ€™t understand equality or what itâ€™s like to suffer, then Iâ€™m conveying their message and tone effectively.) I havenâ€™t heard a lecture from someone who understood or worked for equality as much as I have, nor who has been on the receiving end of these struggles as much as I, but they have yet to ask about me, only to lecture. As best I can tell, they know all they need to about me from my skin color, sex, and assumptions of my sexual preference.
Back to the lecture from the left: the combination, or intersection in their terminology, of straight, white, and male catapults you into levels of privilege that make it impossible for you to understand the struggle of others. Society is designed to usher people like you to success. Itâ€™s not necessarily your fault, but you benefit from it. Loss of that privilege would feel like oppression for you. Others not only lack your privilege that you arenâ€™t even aware of, but many actually suffer and you just being you, despite your wishes, contribute to that suffering. Of course you got a PhD, MBA, Ivy League education, ran marathons, started companies, and so on. They arenâ€™t achievements. You started so far ahead of the starting line you basically started at the finish line. By the time you finished, many others started so far back they hadnâ€™t even reached the starting line you thought you started from.
From the right: economic growth driven by free markets and population growth have created more wealth, cured more diseases, lifted more people out of poverty, and unlocked more human creativity and innovation than anything. It optimally distributes resources to people who can solve problems. Distorting it leads to suboptimal solutions. If burning fossil fuels is a problem, the best way to solve it is to let the market allocate resources to the people who can solve it. If the free market leads to selling more fossil fuels today, as crazy as it may sound to the uninitiated, that strategy will solve the problem best. Trying to solve the problem through government or outside the market will slow everything down.
From the religious, of Abrahamic religions: God said to be fruitful and multiple and have dominion over all life. More human life is good, which means growth. He will take care of us.
I canâ€™t list all the beliefs, but if you arenâ€™t trying to act sustainably, you have yours. Everyone does. I still have several, since I still havenâ€™t reached sustainability. However many beliefs there are, there arenâ€™t that many compared to the number of people, so they end up becoming culture.
Some of the cultural manifestations of these views are: flying is good, more cars is good, making money is good, technology can solve our environmental problems so we shouldnâ€™t worry about exacerbating these problems, buying material things is good, a bigger house, car, and income are all good, individual actions donâ€™t matter, living sustainably costs more and takes more time, Elon Musk has done more to wean us off fossil fuels than anyone, past generations lived better lives and we have to suffer to make up for their fun, stewardship means deprivation, sacrifice, burden, and chore (especially from environmentalists).
From the left I also hear: men are toxic, men should be allies (or just shut up and listen), white people are racist colonizers and should be good allies (or shut up and listen too), white people donâ€™t know what itâ€™s like to struggle, non-straight white men understand straight white men but straight white men donâ€™t and canâ€™t understand everyone else, and living sustainably is like a morality test that counterproductively falls into BPâ€™s trap of distracting us from focusing on them by focusing on individual action that doesnâ€™t matter.
From the right: living sustainably is virtue signaling and environmentalists just want power and money.
People misunderstand my message. I think they expect what I say and do to resemble things theyâ€™ve heard before. As best I can read them, they think things like this of me: I have a passion for not flying (from my mom), I sound like a preacher (from my stepfather), Iâ€™m gatekeeping, Iâ€™m creating a purity test, Iâ€™m like colonizers imposing my values on poorer people, I donâ€™t love my family as much as they do (from my dad, among others), I want to return to the Stone Age, that Iâ€™m promoting doing little things for the environment hoping enough little things will add up to something big, that Iâ€™m depriving myself and lying that I like it to persuade others (another from my mom), that I want to care about the environment more than anything else or would if we hadnâ€™t created this situation, that Iâ€™m guessing at the future catastrophes I fear weâ€™ll face, that we have to figure out what to do for toilet paper and toothbrushes before tackling bigger problems, that more solar, wind, or nuclear would result in less fossil fuels burned or decreases pollution, that I ask about their polluting activities to make them feel bad or point out flaws, of that if I say you can if you want never fly again, never drink bottled water again, never buy doof again, etc they think Iâ€™m saying something hard or promoting deprivation or sacrifice. They donâ€™t get that Iâ€™m sharing opportunity for joy and love.
Nearly nobody asks me how my life is before telling me how it is. Nearly nobody presumes I struggle or cares, as far as I can tell, preferring to take for granted I couldnâ€™t have.
In dating, acting sustainably is a serious challenge, which I say from experience from having been a world-class attraction and dating coach. I donâ€™t look at profiles of men looking for women, but among women looking for men, Iâ€™ve never seen someone saying they wanted someone who lived sustainably, but plenty look for traveling, having kids, and various polluting activities.
Having read Manâ€™s Search for Meaning and Mandelaâ€™s autobiography, I canâ€™t say Iâ€™m suffering on the scale humans have endured at the extreme, but all this misunderstanding and patronizing hurts. Probably the greatest is from my mom and dad, who misunderstand me in most contrast to how much they believe they understand me, as far as I can tell. They say they support me. I believe they believe they do, but they support not me. They might believe they support at most a close approximation to me or maybe that they know me better than I know me. Maybe theyâ€™re confusing me with a younger, less mature version of me mixed in with me, but the person theyâ€™re supporting seems a caricature, clown misunderstanding of me.
It hurts that the harder I work, the more people think the results are easy for me. It hurts that they assign my results to accidents of my birth, primarily being straight, white, and male, which they use to disqualify me. It hurts to be told when I say I suffer that I donâ€™t know suffering and that Iâ€™m more likely causing others to suffer, however unwittingly. The loneliness of being marginalized by society (despite living values it purports to espouse) hurts. Being told â€œI understand youâ€ by people who misunderstand me and who push back when I explain myself hurts.
What you have to look forward to in acting sustainable
Today, this misunderstanding, insult, and solitude is what you have to look forward to if you choose to make sustainability your passion. I expect it will change. When I stopped eating meat, I couldnâ€™t count on a restaurant having a vegetarian option. Today in Manhattan, you can rest assured every place will have even a vegan option. I expect sustainability will grow similarly, though it will still happen too late to prevent monstrous catastrophe. If youâ€™re like me, you have no alternative but to do your best, though.
It wonâ€™t take many people changing to change culture. For all the hardships I described, you can change billions of peopleâ€™s lives since that many want to change. I know the people I feel attacked from arenâ€™t attacking me but defending their vulnerabilities. They sense the feelings of guilt that will come when they acknowledge internally that they could have acted earlier, which seeing another person doing what their stories said was impossible lays bare. They are defending their craving to finish their bucket lists and long hot showers.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees