Guilt trips

I stopped at the grocery store across the street on my way home after work today to shop for some food. Spinach was on my list, perhaps maybe some other vegetables for supper, a piece of fruit for lunch tomorrow, and a tasty, expensive American treat: Cheerios.

After I swooped up my green leafy items into my basket, I stopped on my way to the cash register in the cereal aisle. I hovered for a moment next to a woman slightly younger than me, with her kid tucked into a black canvas stroller with all-terrain wheels. She was scanning the cereal boxes, searching for something specific that she seemed not to be finding.

I reached around her to grasp a beautiful rainbow-colored box of Multi-Grain Cheerios — a small taste of home. Even though I could be eating rye crackers with chanterelles in creamy cheese spread, or rice puffs with yogurt for breakfast tomorrow, I wanted Cheerios!

And as I pulled the box off the shelf, the woman turned to me and said something rapidly in Swedish — and I asked her (in Swedish) to repeat what she said in English. She thought for a moment, and then said, “Those have a lot of sugar in them,” with a disparaging tone.

And I laughed! What could I say? I took a look at her kid in the stroller, and then I said, “These are for me! I want the sugary treat in the morning, it’s the same as eating a kanelbullar!” As if to say, yeah yeah, I know, I don’t do this all the time, don’t worry about me.  And she looked somewhat relieved, as though I might instead be a monstrous mom taking these sugar-laden unhealthy creations home to feed to my children.

And if I had been such a mom, would her lecture have made a difference?


This weekend was absolutely lovely, with clear blue skies on Saturday that I cannot explain, a color that I think of as cerulean blue, though I am not certain what shade that color is exactly. On Sunday, I met up with A and her man R, and we bombed around town on our bikes, ending up at an art museum and then back at their apartment for a light supper. (Matt was out of town, and he never would have tolerated so many activities in one day had he been in town!)

At some point before supper, A showed me a dishcloth made of linen that never smells, lasts for a decade at least, and said that I should get some. Then she said to me, quite seriously, that I am one of the few people she knows who tries to live ecologically.  She cited my IKEA tirade, for example, and my obsession with Myrorna and Freecycle and the like to illustrate her point that I aim to have a low impact on the planet.

Somewhere during the course of dinner, we talked about how the media has lost the climate change debate somehow, that people are tired of the long-term nature of the topic.  The long time horizon of climate change, the lack of immediacy and the plain-old immensity of the problem also seems to lessen the urgency to act, and in the end, we decided, people want to live the way we want to live.

After the supper plates had been cleared away, A suddenly said:  But you travel all the time!  Your carbon footprint must be outrageous from all those plane flights!

And of course she is right.  Matt and I decided to stay home this summer to acclimate to our new city, new country, new digs.  We don’t own a car and bike or use public transit to get everywhere.  But that doesn’t cancel out our trips to Milan and Zurich for conferences, to Malta for vacation, and my upcoming travel to the U.S.  I may talk the talk, but I am by no means walking the walk.


Later this evening, post-Cheerios scolding, I found myself about to attempt to use the carbon footprint argument on a friend to persuade her to come see me.  She is traveling for work to Gothenburg, on the western side of Sweden, a 4-hour train ride away from Stockholm.  She will be soooooooooo close to Stockholm.  She will even be flying out of Stockholm on her way back to the States.  How often will she be this close to me, and be able to tack on a quick visit without worrying about adding to her carbon footprint for pleasure?

Which echoes a conversation I had last Friday with a work colleague: She had just returned from a 5-day visit to Prague.  “I should have gone for several weeks,” she said, bemoaning her carbon emissions for a short pleasure tour.  An overland train trip would have been much more responsible.

And yet totally unreasonable in this climate-changing world:  Cheap airfares, little time to travel outside of work and other responsibilities, and an ever-shrinking planet.  How can this kind of carbon-heavy travel be resisted?

Maybe next year, I won’t fly anywhere.  And I will give up Cheerios too.

Further Reading: See Christie Aschwanden’s meditation on love miles,

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One Response to Guilt trips

  1. mosi says:

    Imagine Albert Einstein, Marie Curie Sklodowska, Nils Bohr or Gandhi not being able to travel. Or even better, imagine all these influential people being able to travel more, faster, attending meetings, conferences and public endeavours as often as possible. Would they have right to emit more carbon than others? Is there an advantage of such behavior? Eventually, it might be seen as an investment into solving future problems with carbon emissions. Let the carbon burn!

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