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Ecology: Should I quit my job?

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‘Should I quit my job‘. This is the subject of an email I received last week. One (more) person who legitimately wonders whether they should leave their job to be in line with their beliefs. That pesky cognitive dissonance, that internal tension between our beliefs or emotions that are at odds with our attitudes.

Let me be very clear from the outset: I am no one to tell you what to do. My role (if I have to have one) as a “Bon Pote” (“good buddy”) is to give you some food for thought -as objective as possible- and to help you make the right decision. There is no single answer to a complex question, just as there is no single solution to a systemic problem.

So how do we answer this question?

Know thyself

The first thing is to do some introspective work. This adage is at least as old as Socrates who popularised the expression: know thyself. How can you make a decision that will punctuate your life to the point of spending at least seven hours a day, potentially for several years, without first asking yourself some basic questions?

First of all, the situation differs depending on your age. I received many messages from students asking my opinion on ‘which job to choose‘ and ‘which company was really virtuous‘ (more on that later). I try to put myself in your shoes and I see an opportunity: you won’t have to make the mistakesof your elders. Throw yourself into the path of success (making lots of money and having the biggest car).

Mistakeis a big word though: some people never learn better than by making mistakes or bad choices. We could call this experience. The only small change is that the famous mid-life crises will increasingly take into account the ecological variable, as the French become aware of the catastrophicsituation we are in.

Finally, your aspirations at 30 will not be the same as when you left school! It is no secret that I am no longer a student, and my life would have been totally different if I had had all the information I have today about the climate situation.

What should be taken into account?

First of all, it is essential to ask yourself whether your job is :

  • Ecologically problematic?
  • Ecologically neutral?
  • Ecologically beneficial?

    Only then does the second part of the reflection take place: “before leaving my job, what variables should I take into account to make the right choice?” Here is a list of things to consider:

The salary

There are several questions to ask about the salary. What salary do you earn and what salary do you need? How much are you willing to sacrifice your income to change jobs and be in line with your values? Of course, salaries are not exactly the same in the public and private sectors, nor are they exactly the same in an NGO as in a finance bank…
Also, there is a strong correlation (albeit with some nuances) between your income and your carbon footprint:

Your savings will also play an important role: even if you don’t spend your money directly on carbon-intensive products, money never sleeps! Also, choose your bank carefully. I hope that with this first element, the idea of switching to 4/5ths has crossed your mind.

Your financial cushion

It’s bound to be easier to do a job you like without having to pay back credit. It is easier to take risks if you have money to spare or a family ready to help you (after an unsuccessful experience).

Family situation

Do you have a family to support? Without your salary, will it be possible to pay for Emilie’s riding lessons or Kevin’s football boots? Is your family financially dependent on you? Will your partner agree to move from a no-limits lifestyle to a sober lifestyle? Leave the Bali holiday behind and enjoy the south of Italy? These questions are not trivial: ecological awareness is sometimes brutal and can leave traces, both in your family and in your relationship.

Acceptance of your close social circle

Are you willing to risk getting out of the box you have been in for years? Are you prepared to receive daily feedback from your family, colleagues and friends on your change of course? Are you going to put up with the mockery and murderous remarks of some people who will judge you, even though you were sure they would be the first to support you? Your change will not be accepted unanimously. At least not immediately. Some people can handle it, others cannot. Acceptance may also come later, once they too have understood the climate emergency.

Your health

Given the increasing number of burn-outs in our Western societies, this is a point that should not be ignored. Too many people break down at work because of stress, fatigue, boredom. At what cost? How long will you put up with this? For what, for whom? If you like the saying “work is health“, remember also that health comes before work and that the latter should not play tricks on the former.

Your appetite for risk

Each person is more or less ready to take risks depending on his or her situation, and above all, each person does not have the same taste for risk. This is not necessarily related to your financial income. Some people go through life without taking any risks of change and they end up quite happy.

In addition to these points listed above, there is another variable to keep in mind… Which could ultimately be the most important.

Each has their own ethics and values

Ask this question around you: ‘What does it mean to be ethical? You will never get the same answer twice. If ethics is indeed the science of morality, nobodyhas the same morality. Firstly, we do not react in the same way depending on the situation. Secondly, we have neither the same means nor the same methods to achieve our goals. What may seem normalto one person will be absolutely unacceptable to the other. For example, boycotting Amazon might seem obvious… Well, no. Like F. Ruffin, it is not that simple.

There are so many parameters to take into account that there is no point in arguing about it: philosophers have been trying to agree for 2000 years and still do not have the same definition. If you don’t believe me, read Socrates, Kant, Spinoza or Bernard-Henri Levy: you will see that they do not have the same definition of what it means to be ethical.

Also, we all have our contradictions. You can be madly in love with animals but eat them for dinner… Or call yourself green and fly to Bali to clean up the beaches. You might even have an exemplary carbon footprintand be a complete asshole in society. In the same way, initiatives that are virtuous for some may be an eyesore for others. Take the closure of Fessenheim: it is both a horror for some and excellent (sincere) news for others.

Is this company really virtuous?

If nobody has the same definition of morality, you can easily guess that the same will be true for the definition of a ‘virtuous company‘. This article could have started with an essential and determining element in your choice to leave your job: the extent of knowledge of the climate problem. You will not have the same vision or the same desires depending on how much time you spend reading about the subject. Between 20 hours of lectures and 1000 hours of reading, trying to understand what has worked/not worked in the past, who is sincere and who is greenwashing… you will see that your definition of a virtuous company will not be the same.

So, bearing in mind that we will need everyone, ask yourself, for example, is Total a virtuous company? If not, could you join them and help them to become one? The same goes for Lafarge, BNPP, L’Oréal, LVMH, Dassault Aviation, Kering… Danone ! I enjoyed listening to Danone’s CEO, Emmanuel Faber, when he announced last June that Danone was becoming a mission-driven company! A thrill! I cried with joy! I had sensed a real turning point in the company Danone. It is true that since the Paris Agreement in 2015, the group had instantly taken the measure of the climate emergency:

Source : Twitter

But to be a company with a mission, it’s not just the climate, it’s also the people! Last week, Danone made it clear that they have a mission:

You can see that we can all have different sensibilities. Above all, don’t hesitate to consult Challenges magazine’s ranking of climate champions (where Kering comes out on top) to use it as toilet paper, and to orient yourself in order to know which group to join and have a real impact on the climate.

The final word

It is impossible to answer the question ‘should I quit my job’ without knowing yourself first. Without weighing up the pros and cons, between what we risk and what we are ready or not to accept. Corinne Morel Darleux’s refusal to accept is not given to everyone and we must accept it.

Leaving one’s job to advance the ecological cause (safeguarding biodiversity, fighting inequality, etc.) is not an easy thing to do and in this respect we have a real lack of support in France. Firstly, on the psychological level, where eco-anxiety and solastalgia are becoming increasingly widespread and are still underestimated (see the work of Charline Schmerberon this subject). Secondly, in terms of support: what do I do once I have left my job? Join another? How? With what support? And shouldn’t I stay in my company (like Total) to participate in the redirection of the group? Or to its dismantling…

To conclude, I would like to share with you a phrase that particularly struck me this week: ‘after 30, you don’t save anything, you save yourself‘. It is ultimately simple: save yourself and you will save others. Now ask yourself the following two questions: “What am I doing for the climate and the environment, and what more could I do?

You know what you have to do now.


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Thomas Wagner
Prendra sa retraite quand le réchauffement climatique sera de l’histoire ancienne

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