Manners & Misdemeanors

Can We Be Environmentalists and Live Comfortably at the Same Time?

Whatever “ism” the environmentalist espouses, the bottom line should always be respect for others as much as for the world we all live in.
IMAGE PIXABAY
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Ever since the release of the 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, environmentalism has become one of the most popular controversial issues of the day. The film was made to educate people on the effects of global warming. Everyone from Bono to Leonardo DiCaprio has lent their voices to the evils of environmental destruction, letting their stardom shine the light on an otherwise alarming phenomenon.

Almost overnight, everyone who was anyone wanted to get in on the cause celebre du jour. All of a sudden, people started to care about something they had never thought about before. No longer was it shameful to be a tree-hugging, nature freak. The hippie, tie-dye movement has been replaced by the Gucci-loving, Louboutin-wearing crowd, spouting the virtues of composting and declaiming on the benefits of being vegetarian.

What exactly is environmentalism? What are the facts behind the media hype? What are the reasons that drive people to embrace this sudden surge of love for environmental ethics? I was determined to find my answers.

We must also understand human behavior, and understanding is not far from respect. Moralizing on environmental issues is not an effective way to communicate.

Environmentalism is defined as, “a social movement which seeks to influence the political process by lobbying, education, activism and setting an example in order to protect natural resources and ecosystems.”

Environmental issues encompass a vast array of topics ranging from air and water pollution, ozone depletion, nanotechnology, climate change and further extending to animal and human rights. These are issues involving human activities and its effects on the natural environment. Upon further reading, I realized that it wasn’t just one movement but several subcultures all balled up into one general umbrella. Being an environmentalist is no joke, and it’s a little more complicated than what it sets out to be.

Since the environmental movement is made up of a vast array of organizations—from Greenpeace and WWF (the World Wide Fund for Nature) to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)—its rapidly growing numbers have a variety of strong opinions. The Green crusade is not always united when it comes to their goals and, often, they tend to undermine one another.

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The reality of it is, most of us just find it repulsive to sift through the garbage. What most people fail to see is that garbage picking IS a way of life in other countries, particularly in developing countries.

There are three classifications of Greens: the Dark Greens, Light Greens, and Bright Greens. Simply put, Dark Greens are on the radical end of the green spectrum. These are the die-hard activists you see up in trees and staging (at times) violent protests, confronting capitalist corporations in order to get their point across. Light Greens are the reformers. Most environmentalists fall into this category, which focuses on peaceful negotiations with policy makers. Bright Greens are the latest addition to the group. They believe that technology can lead to ecological sustainability without having to disturb the potential of economic growth. This includes the development of nanotechnology and has led to the production of the most fuel-efficient Green dream car, Prius Hybrid.

So what exactly is an environmentalist? Everyone is an environmentalist to some degree but not everyone can afford to live a green lifestyle. Wealthy countries can afford to be taxed for the luxury of cleaner air but people in poorer countries do not have time to think about the air they are breathing, too preoccupied as they are seeking opportunities to improve their incomes and feeding their families.

Organic food can cost 50 to 100 percent more than conventionally raised crops and animals. I have a friend who only eats free-range chicken because they are allowed to roam free in the farm and are humanely killed. (I guess I shouldn’t tell her that I’d had to kill and clean a chicken for our second year high school exam.) And yet she will only eat the breast. What happens to the rest of the chicken, such as the feet, neck, and innards? “These are discarded and made into compost,” she replied. But isn’t that wasting food? And how do you know they really are free-range and organic when most of these foods come from industrializing nations such as China and India?

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A smart citizen of conscience thinks things through and finds a balance between their ideals and how they are going to stand for these. It’s all about living in harmony.

I was watching a show the other day about another faction called Freegans. This is another subset of environmentalists that believe waste management can be controlled through urban foraging—in other words, digging through someone else’s trash. These are, by no means, homeless people—they range in occupational description from doctors, engineers and account executives to starving students. It was interesting to see the reaction of the audience, which was mostly of shock and disbelief.

You could actually see the thoughts running around in their heads and thinking that these people were just a bunch of unhygienic tightwads. But the fact is, Americans make up five percent of the world’s population and consume 30 percent of the world’s resources. It is estimated that supermarkets throw away two to three percent of their inventory—around $30 billion in wasted food—that are not necessarily even past their expiration dates. It is actually possible to feed entire countries on the amount of food America throws away.

As I sat there watching and taking in the information, I did feel a tinge of guilt of my semi-compassionless view on the environment. Why was Oprah making me feel bad about my consumerist practices? It was enough to make me want to jump off my sofa and start looking for a trash tour. But did I really want to? Let’s face it. The reality of it is, most of us just find it repulsive to sift through the garbage. What most people (especially those living in developed countries) fail to see is that garbage picking is a way of life in other countries, particularly in developing countries. Why is it such a big deal for the people of the Western world? The poorest of Manila have been dumpster diving at Smokey Mountain for decades—and not because they’re concerned about the environment, but out of the sheer need to survive. Does the environment take precedence over human life?

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I do not appreciate getting into an argument with someone who does not understand the context in which the argument is based and has a sheer disregard for the perspective of others.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I am not against greenies; in fact, I have a profound respect for them because they stand by their principles and convictions. What I DO find offensive is when someone forces their beliefs on me without getting their facts straight. I do not appreciate getting into an argument with someone who does not understand the context in which the argument is based and has a sheer disregard for the perspective of others.

Environmentalism is a lifestyle choice, not a moral obligation. There is nothing that irks me more than having someone espousing the importance of preserving the environment and pointing out everyone’s ignorance of the ecology as they get into their gas-guzzling SUVs with, not one, but three bodyguards (they are people too).

The fact of the matter is that no one is perfect. I understand that the privilege of living on this planet comes with the responsibility of caring for it. But we must also understand human behavior, and understanding is not far from respect. Moralizing on environmental issues is not an effective way to communicate. It is more important to make people think rather than react, and the only way to do this is through patient explanation rather than attack their lifestyles. A smart citizen of conscience thinks things through and finds a balance between their ideals and how they are going to stand for these. It’s all about living in harmony. Isn’t that what we all want?

This story was originally published in the May 2008 issue of Town&Country.

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Dara V. Panlilio
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