“Oh no straw for me thank you, I’m really passionate about not murdering turtles”.
I turn back to my friend, smug, having just done my bit in saving the world and continue my story…
“So anyway, I was in an absolute state on Saturday afternoon, my stomach was in awful cramps and I needed a hot water bottle… where does one buy a hot water bottle?! Least of all when they can hardly even stand up…? I know! Total nightmare. I was in a state until, I realised, Amazon NOW! Anything you want can be with you in under two hours. I KNOW. Amazing. A brand new hot water bottle, covered in paws, yes, adorable, was with me by six!”
I leant back in my chair, smugger still. Not only had I saved a baby turtle tonight, but I’d opened my friend’s eyes to a whole new world of possibilities: you’re welcome.
My face fell, and smug sense of satisfaction evaporated as he turned on me…
“I’m sorry, but you can say no to as many plastic straws as you want, but anyone that gives a shit about the environment knows full well that you shouldn’t use services like Amazon Now.”
“But…” I stammered “why??? The packaging… it was made out of paper!! I recycled it!!” (my pitch becoming a little bit desperate now).
He rolled his eyes.
“Really Em?? You really think a company that can have something to you in under two hours is anything other than a disaster for the environment???”
I leant back in my chair again, this time defeated.
My hot water bottle no longer resembled something adorable and comforting, rather, an example of global warming in action, another way in which I had failed at my attempts to do the right thing. It might as well be a dead fucking polar bear tangled up somewhere in my unmade sheets (don’t even start, I’m feeling guilty enough about that already).
So Amazon NOW, another thing I’ve got to tick off my list.
Ah, my list. Let me talk to you through the list.
The list is something that I started compiling, mentally, about eighteen months ago. I found out, via Twitter, a hotbed of information that will inevitably leave you racked with guilt, by the way, that Nars (the creators of most of my favourite makeup) were about to start stocking in China. This meant that, in order to comply with Chinese laws, they would be required to test their products on animals.
I ended up writing a post about this called Your Morals VS Your Makeup and it explored my own sense of guilt where consumerism was concerned and whether, ultimately, I cared enough about a group of animals I had never seen before and couldn’t be sure weren’t absolutely fine and enjoying a life if good lipstick, to stop shopping at my favourite brands.
Mac, I realised, stocked in China.
Ultimately, I decided, I did care enough. I haven’t bought another Mac product since then and, aside from one small hiccough this summer, I’ve said goodbye to my Nars obsession too.
Makeup was first on the list, and it’s grown a lot since then so that it now looks something like this.
- Beauty products that aren’t cruelty free.
- Face wipes. As it turns out, these are a DISASTER for the environment. Since I discovered this, I have used a cleanser with cotton pads to remove my makeup. Even when I’m really drunk, I don’t budge on this one.
- Plastic straws. (I watched a video of a turtle with one stuck in it’s nostril).
- Plastic bags (I watched a video of a dead whale being cut open and it was full of plastic bags).
- Fast food chains (even though my food allergies prohibit most of it, I won’t go near them – I watched a video of baby chicks being squished into a food grinder).
- Littering – this one goes so far that I will actually pick up other people’s litter if I’m out and about. I will never litter.
These things, I feel strongly about. I do my best to absolutely avoid them at all costs. I found a tin of tuna in my pocket yesterday afternoon because I’d forgotten my bag for life ~again~ and refused a plastic bag ~again~ when I went to the supermarket and had a bit of a task on my hands trying to carry my groceries home.
I will not use a plastic straw. I will not litter. I recycle everything I possibly can.
But I have another list too, and this one is far more complex.
This is a list of things that I feel incredibly guilty about but that I don’t know where to start with. That I can’t commit to. That, if I’m honest… I don’t want to commit to.
This is the stuff that I know is bad for the environment but that I can’t quite bring myself to acknowledge.
The list that now has Amazon Now on it.
Sure petrol isn’t great, but I hardly ever drive and my Ford Fiesta is nothing next to a Boeing 747. No, I don’t need this bath and it is probably a waste of water but this tendonitis in my hip really is real and I need to soothe it. And I know I’m not being an entirely good person by ordering the dog food on the internet, especially when buying it from the local pet shop would massively help the economy, but how am I meant to lug 10kg of kibble back to the house on my own?
This is the list with meat on it, and eggs and honey.
Not being a vegan is arguably one of the things that I feel the most guilt about.
This is perhaps because of the sheer volume at which vegans push their agenda down our throats, but in truth I think a big part of it for me is that I very much feel like I should be doing more, eating better, and if not living as a vegan, than a vegetarian at least. I have seen a lot of compelling evidence to suggest that the meat industry is a disaster.
I also think cows are adorable and have to do a lot, psychologically, to disassociate them from the big juicy fillet I’ve just dropped £20 on when out for dinner.
I have my excuses: I suffer with an autoimmune condition that massively affects my diet; I cannot eat gluten and dairy, nor can I digest nuts and seeds and most other sources of protein, other than meat and fish, cause me considerable stomach pain. With no gluten, life as a vegan is difficult.
It’s not impossible, but given my stomach condition, I would really, really struggle to maintain a healthy diet. It would be flat out impossible for me to live a life even slightly resembling ‘normal’.
So I have my excuse, I’m armed with it should I come under-fire from a vegan (this does happen), but that doesn’t mean I have escaped my conscience. I have not escaped the guilt.
That’s the thing about this list. This second list. It’s compiled of things that I know are bad but that I can’t, or won’t, give up. But just because they are still in my life, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel terrible about them. And that’s what’s really starting to get to me: the constant guilt is really starting to get to me.
The final straw (paper, of course) came for me last week after I watched Stacey Dooley’s latest documentary all about fast fashion and how it is utterly destroying the planet.
Before I even watched it, I knew a fair amount about this particular disaster. Back in March I wrote a blog post about the importance of up-cycling and I have tried, since then, to be a bit more conscientious, but the show itself did a lot to remind me of and reinforce to me the extent of the damage.
And it touched a nerve with a lot of people.
My social media channels over the last few weeks have been a steady stream of people theatrically jumping on this bandwagon, carelessly and probably accidentally throwing bloggers/influencers/fashion people under the bus as they denounce a life of affiliate links and promise to start re-wearing outfits and to stop making their followers feel as if they need to buy new things all the time.
It’s great. The fashion industry is nothing without its customers and here they are, some of the most influential of them, declaring that we must do better. That it is our responsibility to do better. That we must club together to save the world.
And we must.
But it’s hard.
Fashion, in particular, is a really hard one for most of us to part with.
I’m normally quick to recommend items of clothing to people on Instagram. Not particularly because I want to make my millions in affiliate partnerships (although a tenner every now and then is much appreciated) but because I like clothes and I like clothes that make me like clothes and I really like it when people like my clothes enough that they want to buy my clothes.
For the last week I have not shared a single piece of information about my fashion choices, for fear that someone might be encouraged to buy something I have recommended and thus drain the sea of water and murder all the fish and probably end the world.
So what do I do? Do I wait for the fashion-fearing-fad to be over and quietly start slipping back into Topshop in a couple of weeks, or do I accept that in order to make this a world safe for our children, I have a responsibility to do better?
Not just with fashion, but with meat and with Amazon?
Is it enough to say no to a plastic straw and yes to a hot water bottle arriving on your doorstep two hours after ordering?
Is it enough to buy steak from the co-op but say no to a plastic bag to take it home in?
I don’t know.
I am studiously recycling everything I possibly can and then we hear the rumours that really nothing collected in London gets recycled, it’s all just taken to a rubbish tip and burnt or put in the sea or whatever.
The magnitude of the problem is beyond comprehension really and I do want to cry when I think about it. What we are doing to the world is all sorts of distressing. And it’s hurtful and stressful and frustrating because try as we might, most of us spend our lives feeling that what we do doesn’t make a difference anyway.
A cloud of ‘what’s the point??’ sits above so many of us as we sit on beds made up exclusively of guilt that what we are doing isn’t enough anyway.
It’s wholly depressing and you are about to discover that you are getting to the end of another piece of writing from someone who has no answers and cannot tell you what to do to make it all better.
Beyond the imperative and frustratingly predictable: just keep doing what you can.
It’s not fair that we are a generation shrouded in guilt as we scramble to deal with the problems that those that came before us created but when has anything ever been fair eh?!
We aren’t going to get it right all the time and we shouldn’t be expected to. But to simply put our head in the sand is no longer an option. Not least of all because we must leave the sand free for all of the baby turtles that I have saved by constantly saying no to plastic straws.
We can only do our best, and rather than feel bad for all the areas in which we are failing, let’s celebrate the areas in which we are quite literally saving the world.