An opinion piece by Editor in Chief Elliot Douglas on balancing sustainability with the millennial lifestyle.
Like many groovy, artsy young people of my acquaintance, I am constantly told by the media that my individual choices are vitally important to the betterment of this planet and that I should feel very guilty if these choices are somehow inadequate. The question of whether our own actions are in fact at all relevant in aiding sustainability when compared to government policies around food supply and travel regulations is one that is too complex to be tackled here. Nevertheless – I try, with moderate amounts of success, to maintain a plant-based diet and to reduce my plastic waste. I haven’t bought new clothes in over six months. I even have a keep-cup (green and of uncertain provenance, found at the back of my kitchen mug cupboard the day we moved into our student house).
But none of this – of course – really makes any difference in the grand scheme of things. I still insist on regularly flying all over the world in cumbersome, Co2-emitting metal tubes. I gorge myself on avocados and coffee beans flown in from exotic locations and often grown at the expense of local ecosystems and economies. I buy real books made of real trees because my elderly Kindle “just doesn’t feel the same, y’know”. I tell anyone who will listen (and many who won’t) about how I regularly bake my own bread, but I buy flour and yeast at Aldi, one of the least ethically-managed supermarkets in the UK. In short, the few, convenient choices toward sustainable living I make are barely the tip of the ever-shrinking iceberg that is my vast, unconscionable Co2 footprint.
So, the question remains – how to reconcile these two walks of life? How can one eat and live sustainably, shopping and eating locally, and yet also live the bohemian lifestyle of the millennial global citizen? Because – to be frank – I simply and selfishly don’t like many aspects of sustainable living. I don’t want to limit my movements to Scotland (or any one place) for the rest of my life, venturing abroad only occasionally on expensive and slow-moving boats and trains. I don’t want to eat only potatoes and apples in the winter. I don’t want to plan every meal to make sure that every aspect of it is sustainably sourced, especially in a place like St Andrews where the choice of vegan food is severely limited. In a society where I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that I can have and deserve everything I want, I don’t want sustainable living to dictate every life choice.
While Instagram influencers and Guardian columnists alike laud sustainable living, the narrative of what our generation’s version of happiness looks like is, bizarrely, completely in opposition to this. I am told that the things that I want are inherently good things. I want to be able to spontaneously travel to Berlin; I want to go out for dinner without planning in advance where and what I will eat. I want to be a bohemian artsy “hot mess” who doesn’t have time to cook or choose sustainable travel options, because that is what being happy is. I want to engage in “self-care” and “treat myself”, even if that means occasionally drinking a bottle of white wine and purchasing cheesy chips cooked in animal fat in a polystyrene box which will remain in the earth long after my own mortal coil has been cast off. In other words, while I’m still young, I want to, unlike Thoreau, live thoroughly un-deliberately.
This myth of spontaneous, bohemian living is dangerous and problematic, and I offer no solution. Upon reflecting on this twenty-first century dialectic, the only thing that is clear to me is that we need to change the narrative around la vie bohéme. Not having the time to think about our choices is not a right or a ticket to happiness: it is a luxury never afforded to any other generation so widely throughout history. We live like kings, and the privilege to be spontaneous is one which our grandparents did not have, and one which we may well be eradicating for our descendants through our actions.
And yet – I will continue like this. Delighting over the £10 Ryanair flight and ordering Cosmopolitans in plastic tumblers with more straws than I need one minute, and agonising over whether to buy a real newspaper or sandwich in plastic packaging the next. And until I can find a way to live these two disparate lifestyles which I really, desperately want – and which the media tells me I want – and not become a hypocrite, I suspect I shall keep going as I am. Part-time guilty, half-arsed eco-warrior and part-time wannabe impetuous bohemian.