Judging You Judging Me
(a newsletter I was afraid to write)
Everyone hates the preachy envirotwerp. When someone annoying says you can’t eat steak or fly to Bora Bora or buy the double-decker limited edition Yeezy Hummer the backlash effects are profound. Eco-Insufferables make you want to buy two tickets to Bora Bora (Bora Bora Bora Bora?) just to spite them. My fear of inciting this backlash as just such a smug preacher is so great I eschewed talking climate for ages, rather than have my friends or family hate me for thinking I was trying to take their steaks away.
I think what I most feared in grade school is somewhat true. Back then I thought people could read my face — that they could see what I was thinking (that so and so was stupid or cute, that I had taken the cookies, that every embarrassing idea (dogs and cats are brothers and sisters) was visible on my countenance.)
Lately, I’ve been annoyed when I sense people projecting my imagined judgments upon them. The tiny asides by friends and loved ones: Sarah will think this is bad. I bristle because I don’t want to make people feel bad. I bristle because guilt is the worst way to get anyone to change their behaviour. And most of all, I bristle because I am TOTALLY ABSOLUTELY NOT judging them.
Or maybe I am?
This has been my reckoning of the last few months. I’ve been lying to myself a bit (and also lying to myself that I am self-aware, I guess!). I don’t want friends and fam to feel bad about their choices. I don’t explicitly tote up my peers’ carbon footprints, because it’s ABOUT THE SYSTEM, and everyone just has to live their life and forge this transition for themselves. But also ... deep down, if I’m being honest with myself, I probably am judging them. Just as I judge myself for booking a flight or buying a bedazzled monster truck.
And I have to be okay with this perception of judgment. Because everyone can see it on my face. Each wrinkle marks a churlish appraisal.
I used to love travel and had always planned a future round the world trek, in which I’d take my kids to see and complain about it all. But so many of the places that I’d planned to get to someday (Aloha, gondolieri!) are places I now feel it’s pretty much unethical to visit. It’s a harsh take, and one that can instantly make a would-be jetsetter hate me forever, while telling me how said locality absolutely NEEDS our tourism dollars (um, no). Which is why I pretty much keep it to myself, unless asked for my opinions on travel influencers while being held at gunpoint. But there’s no point in hiding it if people sense I’m a judgy ogre anyway. And if I’m honest with myself, I do feel a pang of judginess when I see someone’s Hawaii pics. I’d really like to eat a shaved ice there with my kids, too.
What does it mean to own my judginess? I’m still not sure. I fear that friends will hide their travel from me, or not talk to me about their wanderlust! Which I don’t want. I want to hear about these places and these desires, and live vicariously through my friends’ adventures. And I want to think that it’s all still possible! I remember a time when travel was so rare that, when someone got back from a neat trip, we’d get out the slide projector to look at these images of places we’d only dream of going. I’m ... old? But it was beautiful (and occasionally tedious, depending on the skill of the photographer) to appreciate the infrequent and very special luxury of getting to transport yourself to a different part of the world. There was a reverence, too, because the traveler had thought long and hard about where they wanted to go.
I don’t want to go on a rant about how the very idea of carbon-intensive travel is new, and that the number of people with income enough to travel is just too great for the world to bear. I don’t want to tell people that low-carbon air travel is still a loooong way away, I don’t want to tell them that, by taking one flight, they’ve contributed more to the overheating of the planet than 99% of all humans in history. I don’t want to tell them that the travel they enjoy today means actual deaths for people in other parts of the world RIGHT NOW and a precarious future for my own children. I hate the person who says those things. Because those things suuuuuucccckkkk!!!! And, you know, I too dream of shaved ice in Hawaii someday.
I also don’t like this judginess because it falls into the Myth of Sacrifice arena. Telling people they have to give up things is the surest way to get them to tune out, and it’s also not always true. Tackling the climate crisis is NOT about reduced quality of life. It’s just that the transitioning of very hard to decarbonize sectors (like air travel) will take time … and may require a modest change of lifestyle as we forge the alternative way. We’re in that middle space.
So where does that leave it all? I don’t know. But as the planet heats up, I want to be as forthright as I can be. And this internal/external disconnect does nothing useful for anyone. So I’m trying to own my judginess, and hoping that doing so doesn’t mean people Scarlet Letter me, avoiding me like the Bermuda Buzzkill that I am.
Can people intuit your climate judgments? Let me know!
How you doin’? I got lots of lovely notes from people after last week’s post-IPCC reset. I hope everyone is coping, and caring, and resting, and grieving, and coming back at it restored, with all the vim that you can muster!
The latest issue of Yes! is all about the concept of enough, and I can’t get enough of it (which seems wrong). Here’s my comic in which I posit that there’s no good word in the English language for that feeling of perfect satiation. People threw loads of suggestions at me on IG, and I particularly love suffonsifying (thanks, dear Kate!)
My mum and her sisters started the International Folk Dancing night on Mont Royal in Montreal fifty years ago, and it’s still going strong. What a cool thing! And my mom still goes! Love you, mom!
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Hope you are safe, happy, and healthy. Have a lovely weekend,