Identifying as an environmentalist is not the simplest of tasks. In fact, it is at times, an incredibly difficult, overwhelmingly hopeless, and endlessly frustrating life decision. It seems we are in a constant, continuous, and losing battle against ecological degradation, endless carbon emissions, melting ice, and increasing global toxicity (to name just a few crisis…). This is hard to accept, and I often feel that I would be happier, and much more socially successful, if I never thought about or mentioned the environment. If instead, I focused my obsessive personalty on making money, or just looking good and fitting in. However, I cannot distract myself long enough, or sincerely enough to forget the environment. To forget the work that needs to be done.
As a result, every couple of weeks I find myself in a very dark place. I slide into a pit of environmental and existential anxiety that eventually dissolves into a feeling of complete and utter emptiness. These states of depression are usually inspired by some sort of worrisome event, like the recent American election, or finding my house plants dug up by my cats. I then feel powerless, without motivation, and less then useless. My mantra in these terrible place usually runs something like this,
“Humans are killing the earth. I’m a human, therefore I’m killing the earth. There is no hope. So long Chickadees, hope I die before you go extinct.”
Not fun. It is at these points in my mood cycle that my partner usually finds me staring listlessly at the wall and has to pry me out of bed with a small but effective paint scraper.
So whats the point of this? It is to say that for me the first step to becoming an effective environmentalist, the first step to being part of the healing process, is to address the personal. This doesn’t mean changing my consumption patterns, or driving an electric car, or growing all of my own food. Those are actions. No the first step is to escape the empty place beneath environmental anxiety, because the more time I spend in that place, the less time I can spend connecting with others, pursuing action, and finding solutions.
If you are like me, this first step can be really really difficult. Especially if you are just beginning to engage with environmentalism. So here are four things that I think about when I start to get down. Maybe they will help you too.
The first thing to remember is THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. In an age obsessed with individualism, stardom and guilt, it is easy to feel responsible for the state of everything. Don’t. Not only is this irrational because in the grand scheme of things we are all insignificant, but more importantly it is selfish. We do not need another self-righteous hero, we need another community member. It may sound strange, but take comfort in knowing that the degradation of the rest of the natural world did not start, and it will not end with you. If you can, throw away your guilt.
The second thing to consider is that LIFE WILL GO ON. As a species we are doing an unimaginable amount of damage to the existing ecological balance. Unfortunately, by destroying this balance we are also destroying the systems that have kept our species alive, inspired and healthy but, and there is a but, we are not destroying life itself. It is incredibly arrogant to believe humanity is so powerful that we can destroy life. This type of thinking goes along the same lines as believing all this is your fault. Drop it. Put your energy into caring about the existing balance, or finding creative ways to survive in the new one. Again, throw away your guilt.
Third, IT IS NOT HUMANS VS NATURE. It is humans in nature. The belief that we as a species are superior and have somehow transcended the natural world is once again extremely arrogant (there is a theme emerging). You poop, and breath, and die, and rot away into nothing (or more aptly into something else) just like everything else. The vision of [hu]man as master of the world is fairly recent, and probably the worst idea we’ve ever had. It has allowed humans (not all humans of course) to exploit, dominate, and attempt to control the rest of natural world without a second thought. There are alternatives. This is not the essence of being human. We are creative, tool using, hyper social creatures deeply embedded in Earth’s ecology. These traits don’t make us tyrants, but they do give us all the tools to be wonderful stewards.
Finally, when I have run through the first three and start to feel a little hopeful I can remember that THIS IS A NOVEL PROCESS. There is no on/off switch for environmental issues. Fixing them will take years, most likely generations. So stop looking for immediate answers! Take comfort in, or simply be motivated by, the fact that no other generation in the history of humanity has ever dealt with a problem this large. There is no one solution, and no known solution to the environmental issues we are facing. You can allow this to overwhelm you, or you can allow it to excite you! The old systems are broken, they brought us here. The new systems have not been built. We get to build them. We have to build them, from the ground up, share them with friends, and give them life.
Remember the best thing you can do as an environmentalist is to reconnect with the world. With people, plants, animals, dirt, whatever. Find ways to build relationships, share the experience of living, and allow yourself to be creative!
The cover art for this blog post was extracted from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/a2/3c/43/a23c4304f08eb0dd47380bad9395cfe2.jpg