“Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?”
As a speaker at the Green Culture Forum last week, I had to ask myself this question…. several times. Being a conference on climate change and sustainable culture, I felt the need to examine my own behavior with relation to the natural world. But what does that term even mean? To be honest, even though I work closely with the plant world, I had never really thought about whether that makes me an environmentalist. I try hard to eat organic and buy local; I recycle everything I can–and even push the limits by putting things in the bin I think should be recycled even if they probably aren’t. I think about climate change, promote projects to reduce food waste and hit “like” on various environmental causes. Does that make me an environmentalist?
Google defines an environmentalist as,
- a person who is concerned about protecting the environment.
Using that definition, I think almost everyone is an environmentalist, but if that were enough, the world would be in a very different place. Of course, people are concerned about the environment, but shouldn’t an environmentalist be taking “action” to do something about it? How can you be an environmentalist, and then drive a gas guzzling car or not think about whether the products you use are contributing to climate change? Looking deeper, the second definition Google gives is,
- a person who considers that environment, as opposed to heredity, has the primary influence on the development of a person or group.
Now this is a definition that more closely resembles me. I probably never thought about the title “environmentalist” because my love for the plant world makes me think of them in a different light. Thuli Madonsela recently tweeted, “When you love something, the courage to protect or defend it comes naturally.” Exactly! Plants are my friends, my teachers, my students, my partners… we work together on so many projects that I am acutely aware of their existence at all times. In the morning, I greet the cactus that lives with me as I wake up. When I walk out of my room, I say hello to the amazing vegetation all around. Every step I take outside, if it entails stepping on or pulling a plant, I consciously weigh the possible effect on plant life on the same scale as my personal comfort/discomfort/needs to decide if that is the route I want to take.
Environmentalist is not a job title, it is a way of being.
Environmentalism is embedded in every action I take. I can’t just turn it off when I go on vacation. It is something that is a part of me–the way I relate to the world. So I guess in that sense, I am an environmentalist. Just as I do everything I can to ensure that I do no harm to my human friends, it comes naturally to do the same for my plant friends. And more than that, before I act, I ask myself, “will my actions be helpful or harmful to my friends, both plant and human?” It seems like such a simple question, but the answers are often complicated, and I still make many mistakes. What can I say, I am still human! When I find myself in need of guidance, I am just as likely to turn to a plant, as I am to a human. Some of the best advice I have received has come from ancient trees who carry the wisdom of the world in their roots and branches. Have you ever asked one yourself?
How do you express your environmentalism?
Share your experiences directly with me or add your comments to the conversation.
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Also published on Medium.