We started this site in 2019 following an impression. Our impression was that there are people who, like us, feel an irrepressible urgency to do something about climate and ecological breakdown and that, like us, these people feel ridiculously amateurish in the process of trying.
Of course, there are lots of reasons why trying to do something about climate and ecological breakdown – and its massive injustices – can make you feel insecure and frustrated: The problem is so big and wicked that it is tiresome to even think about it. In our everyday lives, there is little space and time to talk about it. In whatever social setting we might find ourselves – from lunch with colleagues, to the annual family gathering, to the Whatsapp group with highschool friends – mentioning ecological problems can feel like breaking a taboo, spoiling the mood, creating awkwardness, or even provoking hostility. Trying to do something about ecological breakdown also comes with lots of doubts: Will what I’m doing here make any difference? Is the info on which I base my actions reliable? Are my actions consistent – and what about my shortcomings? What will others think of me? Will they write me off as a native treehugger, a radical eco-extremist, a self-important wannabe planet-saver? And, why am I minding these opinions at a time when, every day, lives (human and non-human) are lost to the effects of climate and ecological breakdown? How to process my grief about this loss? What to do with the anger I feel towards polluters and their lobbies, under-active governments, and ignorant fellow citizens? We had the impression that there are few spaces where it seems acceptable to discuss these questions – with like-minded friends perhaps, or in activist circles, but that’s it.
Therefore, we wanted to build a space for confused ‘planet-amateurs’ – amateurs trying to save the planet. The notion of ‘saving the planet’ as well is amateurish, of course. The planet doesn’t need our saving. We can at best save ourselves and some other lovely species. And, we cannot do it alone – especially not just with a website. If anything will be saved for good, it will be through collective action – the kind of action that changes legal regulations, social institutions, and culturally shared values. Collective action is key. And yet, all of us wake up in the morning as individuals – individuals with everyday worries, needs, obligations – hopefully also pleasures. At times, matching our everyday lives as individuals with the need to act quickly and collectively to halt ecological breakdown seems like the attempt to square the circle. It just doesn’t seem to want to add up. And yet, people try to make it add up every day. We wanted to share our own ideas and experiences, sources and arguments, successes and mistakes in this attempt.
What happened, then, is that we shared quite a few sources and arguments, but not too much of the rest. As academics by profession, developing an argument and backing it with evidence is something we’re used to – a genre of writing into which we fall back easily. Sharing personal ideas, experiences or even mistakes, in contrast, feels far away from our writing habits. In academic research, a single person’s idea or experience is not a reliable source. In addition, academics are trained not to let their own experience or opinion weigh in too much when collecting sources, assessing data, and developing an argument. In many ways, then, writing about our own experience runs counter to what we’ve been trained to do for our profession. And yet, the whole point of this website was to do something different – something that is not just about reliable sources and valid arguments, but also about everyday deeds and dilemmas, insights and confusions, trials and errors.
As of now – September 2022 – we want to have more of this on this site. We want to keep on sharing sources and arguments, but also share our experiences with – for example – going to protests or trying to travel low carbon. We might even go as far as to exchange some cooking recipes. The point, of course, is not to shift our focus to what George Monbiot has called micro-consumerist bullocks (genre: ‘the best reusable cocktail straws in 2022’). Our position is clear: We don’t believe that green consumption alone will be enough to halt ecological breakdown at the speed and scale required. This doesn’t mean that we’re against eco-lifestyles of various sorts (minimalism, zero waste, plant based diets, etc.). We engage in these lifestyles, but also realize their absurdity. To give an example: The fact that more people are shifting to a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean that meat consumption is going down (see here). While some are reducing their individual eco-footprints, others are filling in for them. That’s one of the reasons for why we need new rules and institutions.
However, we also realize that not everybody can, at each moment in their lives, engage in the kind of collective action that might bring about societal change. Throughout the past two years, we got our own ‘reality check’ in this respect. Because we had to deal with a rather serious health issue, we had to temporarily cast our big and bold ‘planet-saving ambitions’ to the side, focusing on survival and care. This felt awful, as our sense of urgency vis-à-vis climate and ecological breakdown didn’t go away in that period. We just didn’t have the time and energy to act on it to the extent we thought it appropriate. We imagine that many people feel this way – somewhat stuck between personal and planetary crisis, feeling insufficient. To at least move forward a bit, we diversified our plant-based cooking skills (we still needed to eat, after all), and we collected other people’s insights and actions, creating little archives with sources on:
Extreme Weather Events (list of recent events & extreme weather attribution)
We’ll keep on filling and updating these archives to the best of our capacities, hoping that they might serve planet-amateurs.
Throughout the past years, we realized that trying to do something about climate and ecological breakdown comes with lots of setbacks, moments of pause and rearrangement, impatience, and a nagging sense of inadequacy. All of this is typical of amateurism. The point is to keep on trying.
Why this site in 2019
First things first: We are not going to save the planet through yet another website or blog! No single individual – not even a super-heroine – can save the planet on her own. The primary goal of this website is not to save the planet, but to provide support for those who, for some reason, feel that they should try contributing to this mega-endeavour. Who are those people?
A website for whom?
This website is for people who have – through their work, or through their studies, or just by chance – had the occasion to face the most recent science-backed climate and environmental insights. People who have critically reflected on those insights and come to the conclusion humanity finds itself in the dangerously absurd situation of extinguishing its own basis of existence – and that of many other species at the same time. People who have tried to communicate these facts and worries to their friends and relatives and received mixed reactions that range from ‘It’s nice of you to care about the climate’ to ‘Don’t exaggerate!’ to ‘Let’s talk about something else, you’re making me depressed!’. People who have questioned themselves over and over again (‘Am I getting something wrong?’, ‘Should I just go with the flow?’) but come to the conclusion that they cannot ignore what they know, and therefore that they cannot go on as usual. People who have decided that recycling, buying bio-products, donating to NGOs, signing petitions or writing another critical research paper is too little too late to face this crisis. People who feel that the motto ‘I’m doing something – if only everyone lived as conscious as I do…’ just doesn’t do the trick of soothing their minds any longer. People who want to do more but don’t know where to start, when to find the time, or how to deal with the strange reactions they receive from partners, friends, relatives, colleagues, and social media contacts. People who are motivated and inspired to do something, but also have moments of feeling overwhelmed, alienated from their social environments, or just sad.
An amateur is someone who engages in an activity aside from her profession. It’s someone who does not seek profit in this activity. It’s someone who, due to her lack in competence, has to try things out, fail, and try again. When it comes to saving the planet – all of us are amateurs. While some of us might work in associated professions – such as research, education, journalism or the environmental non-profit sector – none of us have ever saved the planet (and if you have, please let us know!). Save-the-planet-amateurs are bound to experiment with different approaches. The premise of this website is that it is worth bringing together these trials and errors, to laugh about them with a pinch of gallows humor, and to learn. It’s a space where we share our experience, and where we ask for responses and advice. Our posts will cover topics such as finding reliable information on the current climate and ecological crisis, strategies of discussing about the topic, developing lines of argumentation, and staying sane in an age of absurdity. It covers our failures, and hopefully also a few successes.
This website is based on some facts and assumptions that we’d like to communicate upfront.
1) We assume that humans are destroying their own basis of existence, as well as that of other species. Now already, humans, animals and other organisms are suffering, dying and – in the case of plants of animals – dying out due to global heating and different forms of human-induced environmental exploitation (such as deforestation, over-fishing, etc). It should be underlined that some human groups and institutions – such as rich industrial nations, former colonial forces, polluting industries and their lobbies, etc. – are more responsible for this process of ecosystem destruction than others. Right now, ecosystem destruction has arrived at a point that might trigger irreversible dynamics in the Earth system – dynamics that, in the absence of quick, substantive and collective change in the present, might make this planet uninhabitable for the majority of humanity (probably sometime in the next 80 years). Is this alarmism? Here is some scientific backing for our premise.
2) We assume that changes in individual lifestyle and consumption alone won’t be enough to tackle this crisis; and we assume that technological innovation is unlikely to provide a last-minute cure against environmental degradation in its multiple forms. Of course, we welcome both green lifestyles and technologies. Yet, as George Monbiot has put it – “What counts, in seeking to prevent runaway global heating, is not the good things we start to do, but the bad things we cease to do.” What we need are politically resolved, legally binding rules that either prohibit or strongly dis-incentivize environmentally harmful behavior. By ‘behavior’ we mean both the behavior of individuals and that of institutions, such as companies. The challenge, at this stage, is to bring about those rules, while at the same time ensuring social justice and collective wellbeing.
3) We don’t blame individuals for the climate and ecological crisis we find ourselves in. We are all part of a system that needs an urgent makeover. Finger-pointing won’t drive this makeover, collective action might!
This website talks to all those people that, like us, want to finally do something against ecosystem breakdown but are struggling to approach this massive task.