In my first year of Uni, I joined an environmental action group. I’d always been conscious of global warming and the responsibility of humans to stop our planet from – you know – dying, so I thought joining a group was the natural next step for me. What actually happened, however, is that I eventually found myself feeling like a fraud. While I was a part of the group, I felt like it DEFINED me. I began feeling guilty whenever I turned on a power socket or opened a packaged product or bought a new item of clothing. In my heart, I quietly knew that I couldn’t go cold turkey on all these things, but in my head I kept scolding myself with “you should – if you truly cared, you would.”
Hilariously, I came to a breakthrough a few weeks ago when I read a Tumblr text post that went something like this:
“You’re a fan if you enjoy a few of their songs; you’re a fan if you could recite every track in ascending order from first album to last. There are no true fans, only fans.”
I guess this is a little insight into how my mind works, but this post gave me all the clarity I needed to understand what it meant to “truly care” about the environment. In the same way there are no “true” music fans, there are no “true” planet-savers. If you care about the environment, even just a little bit, then YOU ROCK.
Caring about the environment doesn’t have to mean wearing hemp and banishing yourself into a cabin in the woods to live a carbon free life; it doesn’t mean sacrificing everything that makes your life great if it uses electricity or water or oil. I’ll tell you what caring about the environment means. It means exactly that: caring.
We care, we actively seek ways to reduce and eliminate environmental harm to the best of our ability, and we stop judging ourselves and others if, once in a while, we enjoy the things in life that may run counter to this. Because something like saving the planet becomes a lot less scary and confronting when we realise that, truly, every little part counts. Significant, lasting change requires the partial participation of billions, rather than just the overzealous passion of a small handful. In other words: when it comes to saving the planet, to borrow a phrase from the always-iconic High School Musical, we’re all in this together. You do a lil something, I do a lil something more; it just starts with you and me, trying to care. Please please please, just care.
Despite what certain news channels would have you believe, the world has reached a general consensus: we need to live more sustainably. I like to believe it’s quite difficult to find someone who will openly proclaim “Fuck Mother Earth” while shredding sheets of blank paper.
But because of the way society perceives “greenies” or “vegans” or “hippies”, most people end up thinking that, in order to care, they have to give up things to an extreme. So it’s easier not to care at all. That’s why people roll their eyes when you ask them to print double-sided, it’s why they cross the road when they see campaigners on the sidewalk – they think to themselves: “If I’m going to stop drinking milk because the dairy industry hurts our planet, then I’ll also have to give up meat (which I love) and cheese (which I live for) and I can’t do that, so I guess I’ll just keep drinking milk.”
What is so painfully incorrect about this thought-process is that it dismisses the power of the collective. A life that incorporates environmentally-conscious decision-making does not have to be a dramatic lifestyle change, because if everyone did what they could, it’d be enough. The less intimidated people are to start learning about environmentalism, the more people will want to start caring. The more people who care, the more likely powerful institutions are to support greener innovations. The greener our world, the easier it will be for us to keep being green.
So stop being afraid of caring – no one is going to ask you to give up your laptop because it runs on electricity and how dare you, don’t you know how TERRIBLE USING ENERGY IS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. And if they do, they’re a twat. Admitting you care about the future of the planet grants yourself permission to educate yourself on what, exactly, it hurting Earth – and what, exactly, we can do to help.
2. Care some more
This is when you start putting all that “caring” into practice. Think realistically about the way you consume and the things in your life that are very important to yourself. For me, I value technology – I find fulfillment through the use of my computer and phone and iPod. Admitting these things about yourself is the first step in removing all the pessimism you might associate with environmental consciousness: you are allowed to want and enjoy things that might run counter to your cause. You are allowed to enjoy eating meat even though you understand the environmental detriment of the meat produce industry. You have permission to love your inanimate, material objects.
You know why? Because you live in a world that is deeply, inextricably dependent on things that aren’t too good for the trees and the bees. Many of these are so ingrained into your everyday life that you may not want to remove them from your life. That’s okay! See what sacrifices you’re willing to make, see what sub-causes you are most concerned about fighting for, and then do what you can. Always do what you can.
Now, once you’ve figured out the aspects of your life you aren’t quite ready to sacrifice yet, you can then begin considering the parts of your life that you really don’t care about sacrificing. This is different for everyone, and so it’s doubly important to remember that the things so easily sacrificed by you may be the very things impossible to live without for others. For me, I’ve never been a big fan of milk or meat, so significantly reducing those from my diet was the first thing I actively did. Similarly, I don’t watch TV very much (and neither does my family), so we installed a standby power controller (conveniently subsidized by this government initiative if you live in Victoria!). For some of my friends and family, these sacrifices aren’t realistic to their lifestyles, however they may do other things that I don’t do – like have a shower once every two days, or cycle to work, or go electricity-free from 9pm.
3. Just keep caring
There are so many days where I feel as though it’d be so much easier if I just turned off and stopped caring – because let’s face it, it can be exhausting always trying to find a recycling bin or carrying around a lunchbox instead of putting my food in gladwrap. But then I remind myself that, firstly, it’s really not that exhausting, but secondly: the more I do these kinds of things, and the more I encourage other people to, then one day there will be ONLY recycling bins because EVERYTHING is recyclable, and that there will have invented a kind of lunch-wrapping substitute that can degenerate into our soils or fold into 1cm square or something else conveniently green.
Keep doing what you can! Keep reminding yourself to turn off powerboards and buy greener appliances when it’s time to update. Keep buying recycled notebooks for school, and print double sided when you can (if at all). Recycle those boxes and switch off the lights when you leave the house. When it’s time to vote for something, or donate somewhere, or support a cause – choose one that is concerned with the future of our planet. Just keep your eyes peeled for more and more ways to help, more ways to care, because I promise you there are so many small, easy adjustments you can make to your life and you will continue finding out about them everywhere so long as you are always trying to listen.
That’s the whole point of this thing, you know? Caring, and continually caring, until people with the right power and influence HAVE TO start caring too. And honestly, as much as I respect and admire campaigners who stand on the streets collecting signatures to send to the government, I truly, truly believe that if things are going to start changing, if we are actually going to save our planet, people need to start caring on a personal, everyday way.