Halina Brown: Sustainable Consumption Up Close and Personal

Most of my friends are concerned about climate change and support the idea of appropriate government interventions. That is probably true for many SCORAI listserv subscribers. But how often do we engage with these friends in conversations about sustainable consumption? In my case: rarely. I do not do it because I do not want to sound preachy or get the conversation too serious. My recent experience was, therefore, a real eye opener.

My interlocutor was a close friend who considers herself a strongly committed environmentalist. We have a long history of talking politics and speaking openly about difficult personal topics. Our recent conversation focused on citizen responsibility and values. The friend proclaimed that she does her citizen best for the environment, pointing to her political activism on behalf of left-leaning politicians and the recent investment in new windows in her huge sprawling drafty house where she lives alone. In a moment of contrariness, instead of biting my tongue I retorded that neither she nor anyone in our shared social circle (definitely including me) is, in fact, doing their best. Doing our best would require that we examine our fundamental lifestyle choices: living in huge houses, flying all over the world, driving large cars, keeping vacation homes. In my naiveté, I thought that my friend and I would embark on a conversation about it. Truth be told, I was hoping to jointly commiserate about how difficult it is to change these high impact lifestyles when we can afford them and while the logic of personal finances, institutional rules, prevailing norms and accepted social practices all favour them. This is what I was looking for but this is not what happened. My friend got agitated, I suspect that she thought of me as judgmental, she stated that she cannot imagine living differently from the way she grew up, and the conversation abruptly ended.

So what is our citizen responsibility and how do we exercise it? Is it enough to do research, write, teach, and give talks about sustainable consumption? This is what we do best but is it the best we can do? And if I cannot even engage a close friend in this conversation, to whom and how do I talk about it?