Greg Dalton is the Founder and host of Climate One podcast and radio show.
I’m walking on a sidewalk in Whitefish, Montana on a sunny spring day.
It’s about 70 degrees and people are wearing facemasks. I walk past a large pickup truck that is idling in a parking space in front of a row of tourist-oriented shops in this mountain resort town and gateway to Glacier National Park. I glance at the driver and exhale dramatically, throwing my shoulders back. “I’m finally letting go,” I say to myself. I’m done with this, recalling the scene in the movie The Green Mile where an inmate breathes out a visible cloud of dark energy. I feel unburdened.
For years, I have been disgusted with drivers sitting in their cars and idling with their windows up. Don’t they know that idling engines emit high amounts of pollution? I consider looking on the internet to find printed cards I could place on their windshields and inform the drivers of their earth-harming behavior. That will show them. But I’m done with that. For some time now, I’ve been reflecting on the toll being a walking carbon sin tracker has had on me and my relationships. Oh, you are eating meat. Hmm, that’s the car you drive. Really?
Since walking down that sidewalk in Montana that day I’ve vowed to let go of that constant judgement of others and myself. I’m trying to worry and judge less. Why?
First, it’s not a fun way to live. My wife says it’s a drag to live with a human detector of embedded energy and water that is grunting and sneering. Friends sometimes get anxious having dinner with me because they think I’ll judge what they order for dinner. Maybe that’s the power of positive influence. At what cost?
I’ve come to realize it’s not fun being such a human detector. I don’t like constantly judging people around me. My judgmentalism is one of the things I like least about myself. I also think people sense it, and it creates distance. I think people in Montana can sniff my coastal supremacy when I’m walking down the street, transmitting vibes of “I’m better than you. I know more than you.“ Since that day when I go there to visit family I carry myself differently. Yes, I did wear a “Talk Climate” t-shirt recently, but that’s not judgy.
Second, I think that individuals walking around obsessing over daily micro-decisions is a distraction that soothes fossil fuel companies. It turns our attention away from them. The more guilt I have about my lifestyle and personal choices the better, for them.
Does this mean my individual action doesn’t matter? Not at all. We have had solar on the roof for 15 years and an EV in the garage for more than 10. Am I virtue signalling right now? I’m removing a propane tank from my house in the country and going all electric. We are installing a split that will run on sunshine and not fossil gas.
I firmly believe that I need to keep learning and advancing. I’m highly motivated and dedicated.
But I’m giving myself space to not agonize over every little decision and think the world relies on it. That’s too much to carry. I have virtue fatigue. I have decision fatigue. And when I doom scroll on climate Twitter I always feel I’m not virtuous enough.
I don’t think being a carbon Puritan is necessary. I respect people who don’t fly and take moral stands. I struggle with flying and do it judiciously. But I’m not yet ready to totally give it up. I’m striving for acceptance, of myself and others, without slipping into resignation. That’s the best path forward that I can see to make a difference and be able to live with myself. Acceptance without resignation. Sounds simple. I’ll let you know when I get there, and maybe I’ll see you along that journey.