Being an environmentalist is hard.
One minute we can feel optimistic and proud about our efforts, and the next, we can feel anxious and discouraged that we are not doing enough. I often go through waves of emotions and feelings and even doubt that I am an environmentalist. And you know what? If you’re feeling these things, too, it’s normal. In this post, I’ll take you through the various stages of being an environmentalist I experience daily. Everyone’s stages might differ, but it’s important to remember that we are on this journey together, and every effort we make, big or small, is one win for the planet.
Stage 1: Proud
I’m not the world’s greatest environmentalist; I’m not even sure what that would look like, but I am proud of my actions to minimize my impact and protect the planet. I am a huge supporter of publication transportation, and where I live in Montreal, we’re lucky to have a good system that more people should take advantage of. I also try to walk and bike instead of using a personal vehicle. That’s one less vehicle on the road. I shop secondhand whenever I can. I prefer buying used to buying new, but more on that later. I compost religiously and put my recycling out every week. I don’t buy unnecessarily and avoid food waste at all costs. These are just some of my efforts to reduce my footprint and be the environmentalist I can be – financially and practically. I’m proud of these actions but know I can do more. But the more I think about what I can be and maybe should be doing, I start to feel less proud and more overwhelmed.
Stage 2: Overwhelmed
Knowing the best way to be one makes being an environmentalist so hard. But it’s not as obvious as you may think. You’ve probably heard the debate about the electric car versus the gas-run car. Mining for the minerals to make the batteries for electric vehicles can be just as environmentally damaging as using fossil fuels to power a car. The newest debate I keep getting myself into is the environmental cost of greenhouses versus importing produce. Greenhouses require a lot of energy to be sufficient, which can be as polluting as the transportation costs associated with imports. So how can we be good environmentalists if every solution is wrong?
Even when I’m around some of my environmentalist friends, I feel like I’m not doing enough. A topic that comes up often is being vegetarian and vegan. Some of my friends are one of these, and I always feel I’m not making the right choices. It’s not to say that I haven’t tried. I’m just not financially in a place where I can completely switch. I’m doing my best to eat more local fruits and vegetables and eat meat alternatives where I can, but sometimes I feel like everything I choose to do is wrong. I feel like everyone else is doing a better job being an environmentalist than me. All of these thoughts can be extremely overwhelming. That’s why sometimes I feel it may be easier to give up being an environmentalist altogether.
Stage 3: Discouraged
Sometimes when I’m out in public, I see how many people don’t care about the environment. You spend a lot of effort trying to do the right thing for the planet, and the next person throws a plastic bottle in the garbage. It’s easy to feel discouraged. I’ve even spoken to some people who have told me that my efforts don’t matter because we’re all doomed anyways. We’ve seen evidence in local elections, where our society is voting for leaders who aren’t putting climate change at the forefront and even some who fail to recognize that it exists. It’s hard to continue with this journey when this is the reaction we’re getting.
I went to the mall the other day, and as you know, malls are full of new things you can buy. And people do. So many people were coming out with bags full of stuff; whether they needed it or not, that’s a different story. At a certain point, I felt like throwing away all my environmentalist thoughts and motivations. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I, too, started trying on clothes, filling up my cart, and then my consciousness kicked in.
Stage 4: Guilt
Looking around at all the clothing on the racks and shoes on the shelves, I was thinking how most of these things would end up at a secondhand store at one point or another. And when they do, the price will be much lower, and the products will be barely used (if at all). I almost bought a pair of running shoes with an “end plastic waste” logo. There wasn’t an indication about what that meant, just a sticker. I contemplated buying the shoes for a long time. I thought about what it meant to buy these shoes at a clothing store versus buying a barely worn pair of shoes at a secondhand store. I put the shoes back. My guilt wasn’t that the planet would punish me for buying the shoes. I think it was more that I would feel guilty not choosing to go to a secondhand store before buying something new. Ultimately, the environmentalist in me shined through and brought me back to where I would feel proud about making an environmental effort.
The stages I go through are ongoing; I don’t think I’ll ever stop going through them. The whole environmental movement is difficult to excel at, especially with all the obstacles we face as a society. There will always be people doing more than us, there will always be people who will try to put us down, and there will always be people who don’t care about the planet and what happens to it. And that’s just the reality. But you can’t just give up if you’re already on this journey. Because, as you saw with me, it makes you feel worse than taking action. Give it a try, and let me know.
It’s true what they say; inaction is more costly than small actions. If everyone in the world completely ignored the environmental movement, don’t you think we’d be worse off than we already are? Our founder, Grant and I had similar thoughts when writing our posts this week. We want to encourage people to take action, whether big or small. We want people to recognize that their actions matter. And we want people to feel motivated and positive by the articles we post on this website. Because although it feels like our world is slowly crumbling, there is a lot of good, and we want it to shine through.
Being an environmentalist is hard. Standing by and doing nothing is harder. Our actions and voices matter. Continue to make change, first for yourself and then for the planet.