Living sustainably: A problem for the well-to-do?

I’m passionate about tackling climate change and creating sustainable societies. I also strongly believe that everyone can make a difference and contribute to this transition by reducing their Ecological Footprint. Since reactivating Facebook again, I’ve joined a few zero waste groups and I’ve been amazed by the ideas people have and the efforts they make to reduce their waste. But for some reason this enthusiasm hasn’t affected me and I think I have an idea what this reason might be.

I have been unemployed for about one and a half years, at least according to me. However,  as I have been working part-time to earn a little bit of money and leave the house a few times a week, I am classified as employed. It doesn’t matter that I can’t sustain myself nor that the work is not fulfilling me. The system only knows black and white, that is unemployed or employed.

Finding a job after completing a PhD has turned out to be more difficult than doing a doctorate in the first place. I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and if they are kind enough to give me some feedback, I get to hear that someone else was better qualified in terms of degree or skills and that they had more experience. But how should I gain any skills or experiences if I’m not even given the chance? After having written many applications with enthusiasm and being rejected many times, I’ve probably reached one of the lowest points in my life. I feel empty. And the problem is: this is a vicious circle. I apply for fewer and fewer jobs as I can’t deal with the rejections any more, but if I don’t apply I won’t get a job either. To add to this, my partner is approaching the end of his contract. And there we go, from PhD to benefits…

So it turns out that I have studied and specialised in the wrong subject. Nine years of university education wasted? Or did I have the wrong expectations? Was I right to expect getting a better paid job with than without a university degree? Isn’t a higher salary what gives my degree a value and with that the years, energy and money I invested into it?

As a result of all of this frustation, my motivation to reduce my Ecological Footprint further has gone downhill. I’m suddenly in the situation, that I probably shouldn’t buy organic food any more to save money and that I can’t care about the packaging the product is wrapped in. I’d love to buy organic and fair-traded clothes, but I can’t afford it. So I have come to realise that worrying about environmental pollution and climate change is only possible if you don’t need to worry about, and invest most of your energy into, fulfilling your basic needs.

There are many people on this planet who don’t have the luxury to worry about their Ecological Footprint. For those people, it will be important that the system changes, so that living sustainably becomes a default. And then there’s quite a few of us who don’t need to worry about money and consume plenty of stuff. Those of us have the opportunity to reduce their Ecological Footprint and be an example for those who follow in their footsteps.

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