Ellen Macarthur Foundation


Moving from guilt to optimism

Global issues like the depletion of our natural resources and the deterioration of the environment have found their way to the mainstream media, after a rather long process punctuated by economic mishaps, fluctuating energy prices and alarming scientific discoveries.

Gradually, those topics have moved away from the confined circles of the “eco-conscious” few, and we’re slowly realising that we’re all in the same boat – if I may use a sailing analogy – facing a storm that transcends political inclinations, social or national barriers. When the future is at stake, labels do not matter and I hope we now have come to understand that all aspects of the problem are linked. Of course, this strikes me as a welcome step forward, yet the overall level of awareness is obviously still insufficient and as a passionate communicator I’ve been thinking about efficient ways to get the message across.

I never cease to be amazed by the degree of passion that comes into the debate, but unfortunately too often what comes out are rigid positions that generally leave the majority of the public on the side of the road. Things are presented as black or white, and in everyone’s perception you’re either on the good or on the evil side! In reality of course, things are more complex and most of us are in the grey zone, trying to do our best but still functioning within a system that will have to change. The key word here is “transition”, and I would like to see it being used more often: we all have to move from the industrial revolution-based model to the next chapter, if only because the resources this model relies on are now threatened. And while I acknowledge the urgency of the situation, we can’t shake off more than a 100 years of habits and behavioural heritage in a snap. As unfortunate as that may be.


That change has to be guided, and for it to happen everybody has to get involved. We can’t seriously expect people to get onboard if they feel they’re being antagonized and accused of “doing the wrong thing”. Consciously or not, the media has helped to spread a “finger pointing” culture, which I believe is extremely counter-productive when it comes to the public. Raising global issues and exposing certain industrial or political malpractices is a necessity, but making individuals feel guilty about their lifestyle will not result in anything positive. At worst, it may even trigger a reaction of opposition. The support of the majority is crucial, so finding ways to inspire that majority is an absolute priority.

I often meet people who are feeling discouraged, mostly because they are convinced the efforts they make in their daily lives – recycling, reducing their energy consumption, buying locally, etc. – are all in vain in the great scheme of things. And who would liven up at the prospect of a lost battle? I wonder why the negative aspects and the most pessimistic views are so often the ones that eventually cut through the ambient noise. And to send out a message to all the people who think their private initiatives or resolutions are useless, I would just like to use a simple fact and point out that domestic energy consumption has surpassed industrial usage for the past 14 years… so much for preconceived ideas – it’s not the “David vs Goliath” situation which is generally depicted! There is certainly room for improvement here, and it’s down to all of us to steer the boat in the right direction. The journey will no doubt prove long and sometimes bumpy, but progress can be made if we all remain focused and have a vision to aspire to.

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