Is ‘Eco Living’ easier for people with certain privilege?

Is ‘Eco Living’ easier for people with certain privilege?

What do I mean by privilege?

Since July 2019, I’ve been writing about zero waste, eco living and self sufficiency. I have been adding posts here on my blog and sharing my thoughts on Facebook and Instagram mainly, but also Twitter, Pinterest and Linkedin. During that time, I have been anxiously waiting for people to say:

It’s alright for you to talk about all this, you have way more privilege and advantages than me, it is much easier for you to live this lifestyle.

No one has said this so far. It’s early days, though, and I am sure I will encounter people who will criticise me – it’s the nature of putting yourself out there online. And I do feel twinges about how fortunate I am, and how it does make it easier for me to live this lifestyle.

What is privilege?

What is privilege? You hear it talked about so much online now, and people get offended by the suggestion that they are privileged. They feel that it undermines their hard work and the choices they made.

I vaguely understood privilege as ‘advantages given to people from certain groups’. A better definition I found online is this:

We can define privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.

Society grants privilege to people because of certain aspects of their identity. Aspects of a person’s identity can include race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, and religion, to name a few.

In what ways am I privileged?

The new solar panels we just had installed – they cost a fair amount of money as they are not subsidized in NZ. We had saved up for them for years, but I know they are not affordable for everyone.

I have had so many advantages in life so far, that have allowed me to make choices that have lead to my life now.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not rich, or powerful, or well known, those things which sometimes look like success in our world.

Some of the privileges from that definition above, that I didn’t choose and have made my life easier:

  • I was born in the UK, I am white, and I speak English,
  • My family was working class, but my parents encouraged me to go to university to get a tertiary education,
  • I am heterosexual, identify as the gender I was born as, and do not have a disability (hope this language is ok)

Some ‘lucky breaks’ or advantages that were not in my control that have happened over the years:

  • I went to university in the UK at a time when it was free, so I didn’t end up with a student debt.
  • When we moved to New Zealand from the UK, the exchange rate at the time made our money go further.
  • Also, when we moved to NZ, the housing market was more affordable than it is now – see image below to see the ‘house price to household income’.
  • When we wanted to buy a property with more land, we found our current house quickly. It was within our budget as it needed some renovation work.
  • My husband is very good at renovation work! I am pretty good at painting, if I say so myself. My dad is a painter and decorator, and taught me some tips.
House price-to-income multiple (I moved to NZ in 2001)

How does this make eco living easier for me?

Making our house more ‘eco’

These advantages, as well as both of us working in reasonably well paid jobs for many years, have given us a bit more freedom to make choices.

We saved up for renovations as we went along. While we renovated, we were willing to live in a construction zone. It took 10 years of work, but now we have a warm, dry house with decent insulation, double glazing and heating (wood burners and heat pumps). In turn, this makes it cheaper to heat our house, as it is not damp and draughty.

We have just bought solar panels, so that we can be more self sufficient, and to reduce our power bills in the long run. We’d like to buy a solar battery bank next (probably a Tesla Powerwall), and then an Electric Vehicle, but we need to save up first.

More time to spend on ‘eco friendly’ choices

Reviewing our finances carefully, we realised that I could stop working in my part time job, and with a bit of re-jigging, we could still manage financially. And we can live a more self sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.

I realise how fortunate I am to be able to quit ‘work’ as such, and spend more time on:

  • growing our own food (see my post about growing vegetables)
  • making more food from scratch,
  • shopping around to get good prices,
  • buying second hand,
  • buying from bulk stores,
  • making and mending,
  • swapping and bartering,
  • selling surplus food and items we don’t really need.

I also have more time to spend with my children, friends and contribute to my local community. And, I have more time to write and share my ideas about eco living, and encourage other people.

In summary, these privileges and choices made have given me more freedom of choice, to choose how I spend my time.

I know that not everyone has this opportunity. People may have to spend more time working, or caring for others, and many other demands on their time.

What I can do to make eco living easier for others? And you can do it too!

I do have some advantages that make living this lifestyle easier, but we can all do some things that make eco living more accessible for everyone:

  • Vote with our dollars – we can support companies that are reducing their environmental impact, and buy products that also have a lower impact. Support local businesses, and those that reduce their packaging, or swap packaging for recyclable / reusable options.
  • Get involved in community projects such as tree planting days, beach clean ups, clothing swaps, community garage sales.
  • Encourage others to take action – share your ideas and support other people to make changes. See my post about my thoughts on whether the small changes make a difference.
  • Contact companies, politicians, and organisations to ask them to make changes, and support them when they do make changes.

Some blog posts about ‘zero waste privilege’

Check out this blog post about zero waste and privilege:

I’d love to hear your views – let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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