Millennial Guilt

Niamh Morritt

A last parachute?

Red for paper and plastic, green for glass. Red for last week’s box of bran flakes, green for the weekends bottle of wine (red). Dinners onion peel in the compost, Malteser packet in the black bin. No, is that right? Coffee into my reusable takeaway cup, water into my brand new, all the works,“will keep your liquids hot or cold,” lifetime warranty steel bottle. I open today’s post, a parcel from eBay, a Levi jacket, it smells fusty. My water tastes like metal. As I leave the house one of the five trillion single use plastics bags that are used every year greets me at my front door. I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought one of these 5p suffocation chambers but on my walk to work I notice them in the hands of half the people I see. Is the future of the planet in my hands alone? No, but it’s in the hands of the twenty-somethings, the teenagers and the toddlers that will be sheltering from the acid rain, putting bags of sand in front of the doors of their used-to-be-idyllic-not-so-idyllic-now sea side cottages and puffing on inhalers through their pollution filled lungs.  

Growing up my mum always said she had Catholic guilt. A born-again atheist she still can’t walk past a cemetery without crossing herself. Still awash with original sin I’ve never experienced this phenomenon, I’m not opposed to fish-and-chip Friday but swapping it for a curry wouldn’t keep me awake at night. Yet this inherent guilt isn’t something that is alien to me. I seem to have found my own version of it in the water I drink and the food I eat.

My metal water bottle, my daily recycling filing system, my stagnant smelling new clothes are my penance. Single use plastic is my sin and the destruction of the Earth is my eternal damnation. The metaphor stands: millennial guilt. It’s not just me that feels this way, a quick survey of close acquaintances unearths several stories of £50 shirts made from recycled tyres, catching a 12-hour bus/ferry/train journey to save on carbon footprint and spending three hours on the phone to the council trying to second recycling bin. With the future of the planet on our organically sourced, naturally dyed, ethically made, cotton clad backs it’s no wonder this sentiment is shared. 

On October 8th, 2030 my mum will be 64, I’ll be 33 and it will be 12 years since the UN released their report stating that we have 12 years to prevent catastrophic climate change. The 8th of October 2018 was my mum’s birthday, so I was home for the weekend. We ate chocolate cake and didn’t talk about the demise of the planet; how every good birthday should be. They don’t seem too phased by the news, I vow never to use one of those plastic bags that you put your onions in to stop them rolling around your trolley ever again. The environment isn’t my niche. As a politics student and a life-long Kate Bush fan I’ve never been particularly drawn to nuances of the ecosystem. However, the photo of the turtle with the straw up its nose and the condemning consequences detailed in the UN report haunted me into a paperless bank statement lifestyle. The report found that the temperature of the planet is set to rise by 0.5 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees hotter than the pre-industrialisation temperature of the planet. This will lead to intense droughts, hurricanes, a 90% loss of coral world-wide, the list goes on. Unrelenting millennial guilt. 

Yet it wasn’t me that did this, my single use straws did not raise the temperature of the planet by 1.5 degrees. I didn’t start this, but I must finish it. 2019 and beyond will be shaped by the twenty-somethings and the teenagers that stop buying plastic bottle, and new t-shirts, and plastic bags. Meanwhile, 100 companies make up 71% of global emissions. Knowing this makes drinking out of a soggy paper straw that little bit harder, but that seems to be the last parachute on a quickly descending plane. Avocado toast aside, helping the environment seems to be one of the few things millennials should be commended for. The sinking ship that is being left behind by the generations before us can’t be patched up by bamboo toothbrushes alone, but we will certainly try.

Niamh Morritt was born in Nottingham in 1997 to an Anglo-Irish family. She studied History as an undergraduate before receiving an MA in Politics in December 2019, both form Queen’s University Belfast. She is a self-defined Socialist, having witnessed the introduction of Universal Credit and the rise of food banks in her teenage years. Niamh currently works for the Labour MP in her home town.