Being An Imperfect Environmentalist

Over the past year, I’ve gotten into sustainability and protecting the Earth. I light up every time I hear the word ‘sustainable’ or ‘sustainability’. From the research I’ve done, I have realized that a lot of the world’s problems are connected to the environment and our inability to slow down. The concept of living more consciously and intently, is uplifting, because not only do I think that paying more attention to how we treat the Earth will help the environment, but maybe even save humanity all together. This past year I took a class in college on systemic thinking. One of the resources I read for that class was about the year 3000 and what we as humans want the world to be like that far into the future. All of the authors agreed that they wanted an ‘imperfect but lovable world’. It could just be the young idealist in me, but I believe that the concept of sustainability can help us get to that point.

Even though becoming more sustainable as a person and inspiring others to do the same is uplifting, it also terrifies me. Every single time I read a disturbing article about climate change, I realize that it’s not necessarily just a foray into becoming a better human/contributing towards a better world. It’s a matter of life or death.

It’s not just preparing for natural disasters that might come a thousand years from now if we’re not careful; it’s about apocalyptic disasters set to happen in this century. It’s not just about choosing an organic bamboo t-shirt over an ethically made, cotton American shirt sprayed with pesticides. It’s about the female and child garment workers working over 12 hours a day in egregious working conditions; breathing in toxic chemicals while being paid slave labor wages just to survive. By the way, these chemicals find their way into the water supply as well. It’s about how  2/3 of the great barrier reef has been bleached. It’s about how minorities in poor communities will be disproportionately effected by climate change. It’s about how the Arctic during the summer-time will be ice free by the year 2040. I will be 43 years old. That sounds like a long-time from now, but in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t. The next war could be over water supply. Fact is, climate change is going to make the world into a pandemonium and 30% of people believe that climate change is not human caused, but rather due to natural changes. While this is still the minority and not the majority, cultural influences are powerful and as a result, they vote in people who deny climate change. The majority of Republicans in congress deny climate change because of big-oil special interests. Even amongst the slim number of Republicans in congress who do believe that climate change is caused by humans, they don’t believe that it’s a huge threat. For instance, Governor John Kasich who is seen to be moderate believes that, “Now it doesn’t mean because you pursue a policy of being sensitive to the environment, because we don’t know how much humans actually contribute.” It’s depressing when you look around you and want to snatch all the plastic bottles out of people’s hands and replace them with reusable ones; showing them how much easier and cost-efficient it is. It’s depressing when the college you go to promotes sustainability, but their compost bin isn’t even inside the dining halls. They also overheat the dorms and classrooms to the point where you’re sweating profusely and feeling nauseous. You want to yell at the administration and tell them how much money they’d save if they turned the thermostat down and told people to wear sweaters instead. It’s depressing when you see people do silly things that are toxic to the environment and if they made one small change, it could make a huge difference. But I also know that I have to have compassion and know that people care. They just aren’t educated enough and/or don’t have the time to think about it due to the ludicrously busy lifestyles we’re forced to live today.

However, I also think that environmental perfectionism can steer some people away from living more sustainably as they feel that they can’t live up to what they perceive to be an impossible standard. Including myself. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely admire and support the zero waste movement, minimalism, capsule wardrobes, only buying ethical and sustainable products, compassionate vegans, living off the grid, etc. If you do any of these things, props to you! I believe that the world can and should learn from these movements; but doing all of these things 100% of the time isn’t attainable for everybody.

I often will beat myself up for not being ‘sustainable enough’.  Even though I know about the horrors of the fashion industry, I still buy clothing from mainstream retailers when I need pants in a petite size, a bra that fits my large breasts, work clothes that fit my budget, or simply just because it’s more convenient. I try to buy more ethical and sustainable products, but I can’t help that they all come packaged in plastic. I’m just not in a place in my life where I can ‘DIY’. I still take 20 minute hot showers because I like it. I still use the dryer to dry my clothes. I’m nowhere close to zero waste or even low-waste yet. I can’t go vegan due to having a plethora of food allergies and other health conditions.

As you can see, some of the things I listed above I can definitely improve on and some of it is outside of my control. But I can’t help but compare myself to bloggers, youtubers, and Instagramers who I know are doing better than me. Sometimes I’m able to rationalize my way through and tell myself that I’m in a learning stage, that it’s important to have a peace of mind. Even if I could, I don’t think I would be completely 100% anything because having an obsessive mind-set where I scrutinize all of my actions isn’t healthy for me. However, whenever I see a new article talking about how we’re destined for the worst within our lifetimes, I feel like all the actions I’m taking are minuscule compared to the depth of the problem. If I use another plastic bag all the fish in the ocean will die. I need to start a capsule wardrobe now! 32 pieces in my wardrobe per season max! Curse you food allergies! Because of you, I can’t go vegan and I’m killing the planet. Yeah that piece of plastic might be recyclable, but only 9% of plastics get recycled, so therefore I must go zero waste NOWWW!!! You get the picture.

I can only do so much as one person. The key to saving the planet and becoming more sustainable is educating people on actions they can take, not specific lifestyles or labels. Small actions add up. Imagine if everybody drank from a reusable water bottle, started thrifting more, used public transportation or car-pooled whenever possible, refused plastic straws, or went meatless on Mondays. Think of the impact all of this would have! It is my opinion that the simple, daily changes of many can have the same effect as the larger actions of a dedicated few. If you can’t or don’t want to do everything in an eco-friendly/sustainable way, don’t give up the ship! Every little action helps!  Nobody should shame you if you aren’t doing things in their way or up to their personal standards. I’m not and will never be the perfect environmentalist. Instead, I strive to become more mindful and aware of the actions I take each day, while also educating myself as much as I can. Living a more sustainable lifestyle is a journey, not an instantaneous endpoint. Don’t beat yourself up for being an imperfect environmentalist. If you’re reading this blog post, you care, and that is what matters the most.

How are you an imperfect environmentalist? Let me know in the comment section down below!

Alex

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