Yesterday I read Rutger Bregman’s excellent opinion piece in The Correspondent, and today is Tuesday. Tuesday, in my household, is the recycling day. Why Tuesday? Because the island we live on only has 2 paper trash containers. They are emptied on Tuesdays midday-ish, so on Tuesday evenings I pack all the paper trash in the house (along with all the glass and plastic) into the trunk, and I put them into the container before it gets full (it’ll be full by Wednesday night at the latest). And then, feeling that my duty as a responsible, eco-conscious citizen has been fulfilled, I reward myself with a short drive over to the Polish store in a different part of town, where I buy 4 cans of Poland’s finest honey beer.
A-HA! But hold on there just a second, why did I put trash in the trunk? (Ok that’s an easy one, because it’s bulky and I don’t have a bakfiets) Why do I drive, especially in a city like Amsterdam? Why do I even have a car? Didn’t Bregman write just about that?
I’m talking about the idealist who, as soon as personal responsibility comes up, starts shouting that we have to talk about the structures before anything else. That we first need an analysis showing that it can all be blamed on the fossil industry and the multinationals, advertisements and algorithms, capitalism and neoliberalism – anything and everything that lets us avoid looking in the mirror.
Ah, so it’d seem all the French and American socialist thinkers of the XXI century have been lying to me all along! I do have to change my ways!
But to what degree?
We don’t eat meat and our diary consumption is minimal. Ok, I guess it could be even more minimal. But no eggs, seriously? Fine, what about eggs twice a week? Once a week?
And the car, come on, it’s not like I’m driving a GMC Sierra, mine has a small petrol engine. It’s small, I promise, I’m getting 42 miles to the gallon on average.
50 mpg UK, 5.6 l/100km in normal European countries, 17.8 km/l in weird European countries. I’ve no idea why I defaulted to American units, must be the joy from SNL’s cheerful post-election sketches.
And I don’t drive it daily, so that’s okay. But does it mean I have to buy an even smaller car next year? Or no car at all? What if I bought an old V8 American muscle car, but drove it once a month? Is that okay? Do I really have to get a Prius? I can’t afford an electric car, and living without a car is sad. Oh you’re saying I shouldn’t have a car? Fine, I could still rent I suppose, for the occasional road-trip. But if I rent, it’s okay to rent a BMW 5 series, right?
And does that mean I cannot go on holidays to the American Southwest next year? It’s not like I’m a McKinsey consultant, I don’t fly often anymore. It’s okay to take an inter-continental flight once a year. Ok, once every two years? Three?
And what’s the most reasonable way to visit family in Poland? Driving with two people is surprisingly CO2-efficient on a long-distance journey, especially compared to flying. But I suppose I should be taking a train? Maaan but the train takes forever, it’s unreliable in the winter and I’d have to stay overnight in Berlin, and…
Everyone goes through this bargaining in their head after they read an article like Bregman’s, right?