How are your green credentials? Unless they’re whiter than white, you may encounter a new phenomenon: ‘eco-shaming’.
With environmental activism on the rise this year as the consequences of climate change become all too clear, there’s a new trend to call out people who pollute the planet.
Take the use of plastic, for example. Single-use plastic bags are now recognized as a huge problem for the environment. Because they can’t be recycled, they end up in landfill – or find their way into the world’s oceans and are ingested by fish and, eventually, us.
Countries around the world are introducing ways to deal with the plastic problem. Rwanda has had a ban on plastic bags for more than a decade, while Canada has recently announced plans to ban single-use plastics by 2021, including grocery bags, plastic cutlery and straws.
But one grocery store owner in Vancouver came up with a cunning plan to discourage shoppers from using plastic bags.
Their groceries were placed in bags reading “Wart Ointment Wholesale”, “The Colon Care Co-Op” or “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium”.
However, the idea slightly back-fired as people flocked to the grocery store paying the five-cent plastic bag penalty just to get their hands on the unique designs.
Shamed on social
When it comes to protecting the earth’s natural habitat, social media is playing its part.
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Instagram has been called “the friendliest social network ever”, and I think that accounts on this platform are accustomed to being able to post whatever they want without any critical feedback. The prettier the picture the better, no matter what laws/rules had to be broken to create it. The few people who are willing to voice their critical feedback are usually ignored, told they are just being negative, or that they need to stop policing “art”. . If you think adults deserve to be coddled, to have their hands held, or should be ignored when they repeatedly lie and break the law, there are plenty of accounts you can follow that conform to the status quo and take that approach. @publiclandshateyou isn’t one of those accounts. I call it like I see it. Is the approach here salty, sarcastic, and snarky? Yes. Is it effective? Yes, I think it is. I understand that no one is perfect. People screw up. I screw up. And that’s ok. Life is a learning process, however when the response to a harmful mistake is excuses, ignorance, and lying rather than learning and growth, there needs to be a level of accountability. Unfortunately, IG & FB have decided that preservation of our environment is not a priority and have chosen not to provide a way to report illegal/harmful actions on our public lands. That leaves it up to us, the peers of people who post harmful actions, to voice our opinions and make it known that we don’t support illegal and harmful actions on our public lands. The goal isn’t to bully, insult, or make people feel bad, but to show with polite and educational dialogue that we don’t support illegal and harmful behavior on our public lands. The goal is to change the social norms around what is acceptable on our public lands, and that change requires a lot of voices. Change never happens by following the status quo. People have to get out there and stick their heads out. Is that going to make some people uncomfortable? Yes. But our public lands don’t have their own voice, so that means people like you and I need to step up and be that voice, speak out for what we believe in. No one is going to do it for you and our public lands are not going to protect themselves.
Instagram posts are highlighting bad behaviour on America’s public lands. A post on an account of a woman holding a bouquet of uprooted poppies from a national park attracted caustic commentary, as well as investigations from the National Park Service.
An online petition was set up calling for Instagram and Facebook to “act immediately and implement a system allowing users to report violations that are both illegal and harmful to the environment”.
Whether the vigilantes on social media are altering the behaviour of those whose posts they shame remains to be seen, but one area where shaming appears to have worked is Swedish air travel.
In Sweden, travellers are becoming more and more conscious of their carbon footprint. And they’ve invented a word to discourage people taking to the skies: “Flygskam” – which means flight shame.
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Swedes are increasingly looking to travel in a way that is less harmful to the environment. The impact has been particularly felt on domestic flights, with passenger numbers down by 15% in April alone, compared with last year. In a recent survey, a quarter of Swedes said they had decided not to fly to save the planet.
And if they’re not flight shaming, the Swedes are train bragging. Swedish travellers took two million extra rail journeys last year. So yes, they have a special word for that, too: “Tagskryt” – and it’s widely used on social media by those who want to encourage others to do the same.
It would appear that there are areas where eco-shaming works and those where it doesn’t, but most agree that protecting the environment is becoming more urgent and needs action by everyone.
The writer is a writer of formative content.