what is an environmentalist anyway?

person holding plastic bottles and hose
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Upon gifting my boyfriend the book ​Eaarth​ for his birthday, I inadvertently received a gift of my own. Bill McKibben’s 2011 warning to readers about global warming was momentous for me, a seminal source of information that kick-started what can be referred to as my ‘environmentalism’. It was in handing him my own copy that I heard the words any tree-hugging, plastic bag-boycotting, postgraduate environmental student dreads to hear, “I don’t think I’ll ever be an environmentalist.”

While open to vegetarian meals, KeepCups, and occasionally riding the train instead of driving, this man stopped me dead in my tracks with his stated refusal to join the​ ​63% of Australians​ who report being environmentalists at heart.


After my initial urge to go cry into my recycled, unbleached tissues wore off, I was confounded with the question, “What exactly is an environmentalist?” Those I surround myself with at school, the vegans and dumpster divers, those exclusively clothed in op-shop finds whilst protesting against proposed coal mines are certainly doing their part to save this planet, but what about the corporate executives who pay the extra fee to offset their contribution of the annual​ ​781 million tons of CO​2​ whilst flying, or the celebrities​ who use their massive incomes to fund NGOs and promote documentaries?

This simple remark allowed for me to consider the great multiplicity when it comes to the so-called environmental movement. I have been quick to adopt an us-versus-them mentality when it comes to those who deem themselves ‘greenies’ and those who scoff at climate change while arguing its​ ​Chinese origins​.

This dualistic understanding, however, has implications in that it separates and prevents humans from working together to fight this human-caused problem. Regarding those who eat meat but deem themselves planetary activists in a condescending manner as a vegetarian does nothing but create a divisive approach to tackling the​ ​wicked problem of climate change​. Critiquing my friends who drive even the shortest distances, who are planning to have several children, or who use a plastic straw for EVERYTHING is arguably an extremely insufficient way to gain support for what I perceive is the most worthwhile effort faced by humanity today.

Many people, whether they say it outrightly or not, do care about this beautiful planet that we call home. While we all have different ways of showing it, each small act of environmentalism should be respected for what it is. Until someone has a solution that will work without doubt in returning Earth to its optimally functioning level, we need to appreciate and admire each plastic bag refused, each organic meal purchased, each kilometer walked instead of driven, and each scoop of veggie scraps composted.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 4.03.13 pm.png
Mother of Dragons? Nah, just call me the Mother of Worms.


I’m not a perfect “environmentalist” and I’d have a hard time finding someone who is. I don’t eat meat, but have an​ ​environmentally unfriendly glitter​ addiction. I don’t own a car, but am currently drinking my soy latte out of a paper cup. I rarely buy new clothes, but love long, hot showers. I try to stay mindful of all of my actions, while also enjoying each day I get to spend on this still-habitable planet. I’m by no means trying to downplay the need to make serious changes to many of our lifestyles in order to afford future generations with the same luxuries we’ve had, I’m simply trying to meet everyone where they’re at in their respective journeys.

So, I’d like to commend each and every one of you for your pro-environmental efforts (regardless of how small they may be). I’d also like to congratulate you on living your lives and being humans who make mistakes sometimes. As environmentalism does embody​ ​broad​ social, ideological, and philosophical movements​ regarding protection of our precious Mother Earth, I’m slowly learning to be more appreciative of those various movements, taking solace in the fact that while the paths taken are varied, the end goal is still the same. We’re not perfect, but I hope that we all feel empowered to act on climate change in any way that we know how to, for it’s this abundance of actions that will truly make a difference.


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