25.09.19

Eco Bullying: What We Need to Change About Our Communication

Olivia Burton

Writer’s note: **The only time the below isn’t relevant is in the case of politicians. Hassle them all constantly and if they don’t take action – vote them out. Thank you, next. 

I have been both a victim of eco-bullying and an accidental eco-bully (by being self-righteous).

There is, unfortunately, a really fine line between trying to share your opinions on something you care passionately about, and ‘eco-bullying’. This can be defined as ‘harming, intimidating, or coercing’ in the context of environmental choices or actions. An example could be the vegan protesters that started targeting farmers in their homes earlier this year in Victoria; did it work? No. It made well-intended environmental and vegan protesters look like bullies. In fact, it could be argued that it made the divide between vegan and non-vegans further apart. 

Image via Unsplash

eco bullying

I previously wrote an article on how I wasn’t going to give up air travel, subsequently getting slammed with online trolls personally attacking me. This wasn’t helpful, it didn’t engage in intelligent conversation; it was eco-bullying. I was being shamed for being honest on something that many others struggle with. I wanted to use my honesty to spark intelligent debates on what we could do together to make flying environmentally better. Instead, eco-bullies shut down any further communication and just pissed me off.

I think we all need to adapt our communication around the environment to ensure there are no ‘sides’. I’m not talking about the few people that are a no-hope; the climate deniers that refuse to listen to credible evidence. I’m talking about the general population that is inundated with information from multiple angles and confused about everything (aren’t we all?).

Here’s how we can change communication to stop ‘eco-bullying’

Have honest conversations   

It can be difficult to admit faults or lack of knowledge on something, but it’s crucial to have open and honest communication. This was my aim with my article about how I wasn’t going to stop flying. I was admitting my selfish faults; I love to travel and I try my hardest to avoid pointless flying but ultimately I won’t stop. I think I am with the general population in this mindset. I wanted to hear about how people reduce their footprint whilst flying and what airlines are doing. For example, Qantas has pretty impressive carbon targets by 2050. 

It’s essential to share information openly and honestly. Don’t know how to stop your online shopping addiction? Share and ask. Do you love eating steaks but want to know how to reduce your meat intake? Share and ask. Failed Plastic Free July? Share so others can learn and not feel alone. Nobody is a perfect environmentalist.

Ignore the trolls 

Let’s get one thing straight, don’t give airtime to trolls – it’s pointless. There’s a small selection of sad people that enjoy (mostly online) trolling and are all-round pointless. Intelligent and fair communication goes both ways; know when to listen and when to walk away and spend energy on something else. A great example is the role media plays. NBC’s Chuck Todd recently exclaimed that no climate deniers will be given air time; 97% of climate scientists and decades of credible data is not being debated anymore.   

“We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter and human activity is a major cause. Period.” – Chuck Todd, The Huffington Post, 2018

Keep learning 

We are constantly evolving; maybe our morals and values stay consistent but our knowledge and opinions can evolve. Nobody knows everything and we have to understand that to move forward we must learn from each other. I like to read different forms of media, speak to different people and keep learning from places such as EdX (free online short courses). Generally, every source of knowledge has an element of bias, just keep that in mind. Question everything and evolve your own knowledge. I’ve been surprised at how much my knowledge has evolved, just through engaging with others and critiquing information. FYI – media outlets can lie.      

Try not to lose it

I am one of those people who get overwhelmed with anger in arguments…and cries. It’s safe to assume that my angry tears and swearing have not influenced anyone’s opinions or ignited any change. Shouting at someone and making personal criticisms is generally only going to lead to a defensive argument. Think about the last time someone personally criticized you – did it make you listen or get prickly? There is a fine line between impassioned communication and angry shouting.  

Understand differences 

To really engage and have a healthy conversation with someone, it’s important to relate. A really interesting article by The Conversation recently touched on this issue with the vegan movement. Research shows that families need to eat and work takes priority over moral and environmental questions and therefore being shouted at by vegans doesn’t really work. It might be better to relate to this priority and perhaps educate people about introducing meat-free Mondays or flexitarianism. No one likes to be told what to do.

‘Understanding and empathising with the barriers, needs and habits of people who do and don’t eat meat may go some way in bridging the chasm towards a more sustainable future.’ – Tani Khara, The Conversation, 2019 

There are no sides 

Olivia Burton

Olivia is an eco-writer, producer, science graduate & ocean enthusiast. After moving from London to Sydney, she found her love for the outdoors and recycled textiles, which led her to start writing about science and sustainable fashion. Olivia is really passionate about brands using fashion for good and innovation in the industry. She now splits her time between several not-for-profit organisations in communication roles. Olivia is also a Centre for Sustainability Leadership alumni and sits on the Fashion Revolution committee for Australia & New Zealand.