2015: the year to broaden the term ‘environmentalist’

The number of activists like those pictured here, at a 2013 protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline, will grow in the coming year. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia.com)

By Julia Rentsch, GECO Correspondant

Between the hundreds of climate activists who ran for federal, state, and local offices, the people who took to the streets to protest, and the millions of people who made choices in their lives with the environment in mind, you could say that environmentalists were on fire in 2014.

Of course, since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found 2014 to also be the hottest year on record, actually catching fire was not out of the realm of possibility.

Since environmental issues have cemented themselves into mainstream politics (Keystone XL, the Lima Climate Change Conference, the fracking ban in New York, the drought in California, etc.) the beginning of 2015 is an important time to reflect on what it really means to be an environmentalist and why everyone should (to some degree) be one.

Though stereotypes of people who care about environmental issues usually depict a vegan liberal who wears hemp and has a propensity for hiking, assumptions and misjudgments are no reason to classify caring about people and the planet (environmentalism) as unfitting to you.

Do not let politics throw you off, either: climate change is not inherently a political issue, but has been made one thanks to think tanks and politicians funded by heavy investments in fossil fuels. People can still embrace whatever party’s ideals while also being cognizant of current and future environmental damages.

Remember, 97% of scientists agree that climate change is not only real, but also is definitively caused by human activities. These are scientists with diverse backgrounds, affiliated with both major political parties, who are producing honest reports about our problems based on research because that is simply what they do (as opposed to cooking up scare-tactic schemes).

The discourse surrounding the issue is not as clear as it should be because of mistakes, misunderstandings and outright lies in the political sphere and on TV.

Unfortunately, numerous conservative talk-show hosts who speak to their large audiences about why human-caused climate change must be a sham use incorrect and invented “facts” that can be dismissed by a single search on Google Scholar.

Such muddling of the discourse is part of what makes the task of transforming our world into one that no longer exploits the safety of its people and the integrity of its land such a gargantuan task; one that, despite the movements forward in Lima last year, will not come to an end any time soon without everyone (everyone!) on board.

What I am saying is, if you have not been making the most eco-friendly decisions in the past, there is still room in the movement for you, no matter the role you wish to take, because you are needed.

Every liberal, conservative and all those between are needed for this movement; everyone who appreciates our planet’s biodiversity and wants it to remain full of life; everyone who believes that greed should not be causing natural disasters that bring suffering to millions of people; everyone who does not wish to exploit others, especially the world’s poor; everyone who believes in justice.

There are no rules that say you have to be vegan or make your own clothes in order to be an asset to the environmental movement.

How about skipping meat once or twice a day and buying clothes secondhand instead of new? Choosing cleaning supplies that do not contain funky chemicals or dyes? Recycling vigilantly? Taking a laptop to class instead of printing?

Though some of these are more impactful than others, they are basic habits that everyone should adopt.

We should also recognize the plurality of identities of the people who call themselves environmentalists and not pigeonhole them in our minds as a fringe group, like the media would have us believe. You may not currently believe that you are the type of person to make environmentally conscientious decisions, but in truth the environmental movement is extremely diverse.

Calling yourself an environmentalist is not just for liberals, not just for women, not just for gardeners or for hikers; let us all work towards a world in which everybody cares about our impact on the planet and on other people.

2015 holds so much promise; let us make Gettysburg proud.

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Author: Isabel Gibson Penrose

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