A teenager’s perspective: What is a 21st century environmentalist?

Andrew Gustar

By |2019-08-12T12:29:47+00:00August 12th, 2019|Culture, Environment, Essay, Sustainable Living|Comments Off on A teenager’s perspective: What is a 21st century environmentalist?

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.