I do not think there is an accurate depiction of what an environmentalist goes through while being an environmentalist. Most people tend to view earth lovers as traditional peace-loving hippies, or activists that chain themselves to trees, but I have found a different truth. Most of them are actually hard-working people who spend much of their free time sharing the reality they experience. A reality that the environment trumps all other worldly issues.
There are a lot of challenges that environmentalists face that are not readily obvious and I would like to talk about some of them. All of which I have personally encountered and have become familiar.
The first is making changes in my personal life to align with my beliefs. This might sound simple but becoming eco-friendly in every sense of the word is harder than one can imagine. I have had a hard time, specifically, with decreasing my trash production so that I could consider myself a “zero-waster.” To be zero-waste essentially means that you do not create trash (hence the word zero). You either eliminate items that would make garbage, or you find alternative products and methods for living your life that are garbage-free.
Some other examples of personal change include limiting use of harsh chemicals, refusing plastic bags, while carrying reusable bags, and eating takeout less often.
Whether it is something that we face personally, or something we experience as a result of global politics—it is very real no matter the degree. So, the second thing I would like to mention is feeling like I cannot make a difference or have not done enough. Even with spending all of my free time spreading awareness on social media or organizing environmental cleanups, it always feels like there is something I have not thought of, or that I need to put more effort into doing. It is seriously an endless cycle of saying, doing, and repeating to many people.
It gets tiring to be repetitive because the message that we are trying to convey does not change much. This brings me to my third point: witnessing people’s bad habits. I cringe every single time I see someone litter or fail to sort their recyclables from their trash at home. It is honestly hard to know the changes that need to be made and then watch people ignore them. I try to use these moments as lessons and opportunities to teach but people often do not want to be told what to do or how to live their lives.
Dealing with different perspectives is one part of the battle but another beast are the events that take place around the world. It is extremely hard to know how to feel when environmentally related disasters take place. Whether I am anxious because the Amazon rainforest is on fire, or because there has been an oil spill in a distant ocean, it brings up some really difficult feelings.
That is the fourth thing I would like to mention, that climate anxiety exists, and the nagging reminders of the world who refuse to recognize speedy change is necessary. There is worrying about whether your behaviors are helping at all. There is becoming paranoid about having kids and what their future could look like. There is screaming into a void—that is how it feels, at least.
The last thing I would like to mention is getting people to change their mind. This has become a talent that I have acquired during volunteer experiences. Once upon a time, I used to be a less social creature and I did not interact often with people. Only as I needed to. But once I became more passionate about the environment, I saw the need to interact. It is through education that people understand your message. It is by meeting them where they are at that can initiate a change in their thoughts. Sometimes, it is understanding that someone will not do exactly as you want them to but planting a seed of thought will flourish into something beyond the meeting.
And to be honest, it is that planting of a seed that makes it all worthwhile.
Featured Image: Me, Alyssa, at a trash cleanup event in Spring Creek Park, Queens.