Insulted by young fundraiser, the author belatedly defends the humanity of environmentalism

I want YOU to be an environmentalist

“I want YOU to be an environmentalist”     (photo by John Crozier)

Walking down Nicollet Mall a couple years ago I was approached by a strident young man with a clipboard and green Child Fund smock over his winter bundling.  I didn’t particularly want to stop to chat on my lunch break that chilly afternoon, but when he flagged me down with a bright smile and a wave, I paused briefly to hear him out.  Then I put him off by admitting that while it’s a good cause, nay a great cause, I’ve heard it’s better both for personal sanity and for the efficiency of charities if you choose fewer causes that you feel strongly about and stick by them.

“What charities do you support?” he countered, with a hint of aggression.  Mainly environmental causes, I said.  As I was moving along he said “I’m a humanist.  I care about people, not trees.”

This stuck in my craw, but also gave me an early insight into environmentalists’ ultimate failure at branding.  Sure, I love trees.  Most people do.  But “environmentalism,” is a shamelessly human cause.  Ice ages come, ice ages go; and acclimatized species rise and fall.  Environmentalism is about keeping the environment acclimated to us.

Environmentalism is about protecting natural systems which replenish our freshwater, soil, clean air, and keep our climate human-habitable.

Environmentalism is about recognizing that our fate is tied to the bees that pollinate our food, and to the rain forests that inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen.  It is about prioritizing and strategizing the long term survival of people; about recognizing that everyday choices we make will limit or increase our children’s options for survival.

Environmentalism is about forward movement, discovery, technology, and heeding cause and effect to give us wise decision making power.  It is about making the best possible use of our resources, opting not to poison ourselves; about using nature’s ecosystems to our advantage rather than needing to overcome their collapse.

Environmentalism is about urging our leaders to create policy that advocates for human beings above money making entities.  It recognizes natural beauty as a quality of life issue; and responds with action steps for preservation.  The environment will go on without us; we take these measures in the full spirit of human-centricity; to improve our lives and protect our longevity.

No matter how well verified, concepts like climate change can feel more abstract and distant than feeding a hungry child.  However, conservation of soil and prevention of  catastrophic climate change are essential to feeding a growing population of children and adults, alike.  Environmentalists tend to think on a larger scale and longer timeline than an operation like Child Fund.  This doesn’t mean action is less urgent.  Both approaches are necessary to work toward the healthy peaceful world that we all want.

Environmental strategy is not more important, but equally important to the spreading of lifesaving food, medicine and shelter worldwide.  Since there is a resistant push-back against environmentalism, I consider it an underdog movement that needs all hands on deck.  We need the scientists and abstract thinkers who have been the movement’s early adopters, but also marketers, storytellers, salespeople, musicians, religious leaders, sisters, brothers, teachers, moms, dads and friends to embrace environmentalism and create the people-oriented image its mission fully warrants.

To accomplish this, as David Fenton suggests in the article Want everyone else to buy into environmentalism?  Never say ‘Earth;’ we may need to get rid of the term “environmentalism” altogether.  Read that article, lots of good points.

Resources to keep informed, involved and inspired:

350.org  &  MN350.org.  A potent world-wide network of climate activists, and their Minnesota branch.  They provide lots of ways to get involved, in fact MN350 has a rally and march tomorrow regarding the expansion of Minnesota’s Alberta Clipper pipeline.

Ensia.  A magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action. Powered by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota; connecting people with ideas, information and inspiration they can use to change the world.

Thanks for reading The Wednesday Post!

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