As Things Stand

Bridget O'Sullivan shares her experiences trying to be a better global citizen.

How do you put an original angle on an environmental article? Hasn’t every ‘be eco-friendlier’ or ‘eat less meat’ variation been done before? Unless you’ve been living off-grid, you’ll know that we’re on the highway to catastrophe if we don’t get our act together, if we don’t start treating the earth like it’s a precious jewel that deserves preservation. But you already know that – that’s environmental toddler talk.

I’m not here to strike the fear of God into you or bombard you with Harvard scientist quotes. That’s so abstract, let’s humanise the environment. After all, it is every human’s home sweet home, whether you’re a vegan crusader or a meat-eating ‘it’s all pseudo-science’ flat-earther.

Most of us sit somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, though. Bait terms such as ‘climate change’ are so new to our culture that many of us just don’t know what to make of them, let alone how to go about fixing the derivative issue. Militant environmentalists strike me as brave, what with leading a crusade towards a more sustainable way of life. They also strike me as having more self-control, and probably a better moral compass, than me. I have a nudging feeling that we all strive to care as much as they do but find it really bloody hard to be Greta Thunberg’s disciple 24/7. Must we give up cheese? What would that make pizza? Tomato bread? Ew, no thanks. Must we make do with grainy, dairy-free chocolate? Must the frothiness of a freshly brewed cappuccino be replaced with a flavourless copycat? In my years of vegetarianism, I’ve learnt how much we give up adhering to plant-based lifestyles. Our society simply isn’t quite there yet. Alternatives aren’t quite honed yet. And some of them (I’m looking at you, vegan cheese) are downright awful.

The bigger picture, saving the planet, feels so abstract when you’re staring at a menu and the only vegan option is ‘guilt-free salad with a side of hummus’. Combine this with human’s innate selfishness, and no wonder we aren’t all vegan. The ease of eating meat, of ignoring climate change, is all too tempting when we’re not even sure what climate change is. It’s a phrase that’s thrown around a lot, and most of us know it’s important, but the mechanics of it are lost on us. How the hell are we, selfish, lazy humans, meant to care when no one is telling us how to care?

Suddenly, the narrative has changed. We’re now meant to curb the ‘every man for himself’ mentality that cavemen lived by. But hurling scary facts at us (insert Harvard scientists) isn’t going to teach us how to care about the environment. Understanding comes through education. Children need to learn how to save our planet, one cruelty-free, none ham sandwich at a time. The workplace needs to be sent to ‘save the planet’ training like they are workplace behaviour courses. Students need to be taught about the effects of meat consumption and single-use purchases instead of just being told they’re not woke if they don’t go vegan and deodorant-free. The bottom line is that this isn’t going away, we can’t step around it anymore: we save our planet, or we lose it. As things stand, losing it seems the more likely outcome.