For International Youth Day, work experience student George Yardley writes about the label of ‘environmentalist’ in the 21st century: what it is perceived to be and what it should be.
When I think of a 21st century environmentalist what comes to mind is an extremist – someone who doesn’t drive, doesn’t fly, doesn’t use plastic, only buys second-hand clothing, has their roof covered with solar panels and, of course, is vegan.
Environmentalists are trying to reduce aspects of our lifestyle that are destroying the planet and that, of course, is a good thing. However, modern society is built upon layers of environmentally destructive materials: plastic, fossil fuels, red meat, etc. How are we supposed to reduce our use of these integral parts of our daily life?
Not everybody can completely change their lifestyle, even if they do care for the environment. What tends to happen though is that anyone who takes baby steps and calls themselves an environmentalist is labelled as a hypocrite if they don’t go all-in and flip their lives upside down for the environmental movement.
To me, that is simply frustrating. The small group of environmentalists and conservationists who have dedicated their lives to saving the planet are not enough to make a difference. Rather, they need to inspire everybody to begin living more sustainable lives. The problem won’t be fixed unless everybody is part of the solution. People from every corner of the world will need to band together to pull us out of the giant dumpster-fire we have made for ourselves. If you scare away anyone who dares to gradually adapt their lives towards environmentalism, then the movement will never grow.
I’m a vocal supporter of taking the necessary steps towards reversing the damage already done to our planet. For two years now I’ve been a member of my school’s Sustainability Council and we do a lot of good work to educate our community about how we can make a difference. But even though I cared about the environment, and knew what needed to be done, I was also daunted by the changes I needed to make to my life.
My friends thought of me as a “tree-hugger” because I would constantly nag them about how they should be boycotting meat and walking to school, but secretly, I wasn’t doing any of these things myself. I ate meat excessively and used plastic without care and hailed a cheeky Uber whenever I was late for something.
Young people around the world have been demonstrating their concern about the environment through school strikes and climate change protests. Image: School Strike
It was at the start of last year that I came to the conclusion that I was not making the sacrifices that I needed to be an effective role model for other people. Over the last year, I have worked to make my carbon footprint as small as possible, and I have made a lot of good changes in my life. But it took significant time and effort. There is no easy way to adopt an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
I started with simply paying more attention to the amount of plastic I used in a day. Then I made an effort to use as little plastic as possible. When I began to see that I had actually made some progress there was an immense feeling of pride and empowerment. Next, I cut meat entirely out of my life. It worked for a day and a half until I accidentally had a sausage roll… and then a burger later that day. Going cold turkey (excuse the mixed metaphor!) didn’t work for me, so I decided to try again but to ease myself into meatless meals. My new plan: eat less red meat. Just being more conscious of my eating habits and then occasionally picking chicken or a vegetarian option opened my eyes to the huge amount of red meat that I ate. I reached a point where I was confident I could cut red meat out of my life entirely. Fast-forward to today and I’m still going strong red-meat-free.
There is plenty more I could do. I know that. Some people would scoff and say I’m not making the most important sacrifices so I’m not doing enough, but I don’t think that the world needs everybody to be the extreme. We could massively reduce our impact if everybody did a few small things and the big industries did a few big things.
We need to take back the word “environmentalist”. We need to praise each small lifestyle change people are able to make, and not scare people away with huge sacrifices. Those small changes will lead to bigger ones, and that is how we will turn the tide. Because everybody needs to join in, not just a small group of people dedicated to saving the earth. Everybody needs to support the cause; everybody needs to be an environmentalist.
As well as the changes each of us can make in our personal lives, there are many more ways to support the environment movement and help protect the natural world. In 2018, Synchronicity Earth worked with people around the world of different backgrounds and expertise, who all shared a love of nature and a desire to bring positive change for the environment.