These days, being an environmentalist doesn’t mean what it used to. There’s little or no “nature” left that hasn’t been touched in some way by human activities. And like the proverbial butterfly, the impacts of our actions in one place – whether it’s pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or dumping plastics into the ocean – have blown, like a hurricane, to every corner of the globe.
So what’s a concerned citizen to do? How does our relationship with the environment affect our life choices? Back in the summer Resource Media hosted an event in Washington DC to explore these questions. We were joined by a panel of four of today’s most innovative voices on environmental issues:
- Andrew Blackwell – Documentary filmmaker and author of Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places
- Brenda Ekwurzel – Climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and coauthor of Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living
- Tim Reichert – CEO of Energy Sherlock, a Virginia-based company that specializes in helping businesses save energy and go “green”
- Paul Wapner – Professor of Global Environmental Politics at American University, and author of Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism
As I moderated the panel’s discussion about what it means to live in a world where taking action to improve our environment can mean anything from upgrading your fridge to appreciating the beauty of the most polluted city in China, it seemed that all the speakers were circling around three simple takeaways:
1) For people who do want to live their lives more “sustainably,” there is an overwhelming, sometimes contradictory, and often baffling amount of information out there about what this really means.
2) Good intentions and actual results often bear no relation to each other. But it’s certainly possible to achieve both.
3) It is up to us – advocates and communicators – to cut through the noise and guide people towards actions that have real impact.
And here’s a great place to start: Union of Concerned Scientists came up with a great online tool – coolersmarter.org – that helps people identify and adopt meaningful actions that are tailored to their lifestyle, with a goal of reducing individual emissions by 20 percent.
Environmentalists sometimes get stereotyped as being idealistic to the point of being unrealistic. Sure, the stereotype can be unfair. But it’s up to us to counter it, by promoting pragmatic solutions that people can adopt, safe in the knowledge that their actions have meaning. Just remember: there are no extra points for being a martyr.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Emmett Unlimetted