Imperfect environmentalism: a practical eco-friendly life

By Madeline Gray.

My last week has been filled with late-night work, early morning alarms, and racing to the car realising that I am, in fact, twenty minutes late. On top of the stress of being in a rush, I still have time to feel guilty for not taking the bus. It's a fraught way to start the day, and I often find myself in these situations, questioning if I am truly doing my part for the climate. 

I find it important to remind myself that I don't have to be the perfect environmentalist, which is why I'm sharing my guide for living a practical and sustainable lifestyle.

Environmentalism stems from the heart

Being an environmentalist means advocating for issues facing our planet from a place of care and love. This means speaking up for the protection and significance of anything environmental, even if the problem seems overwhelmingly large (like our changing climate) or insignificantly little. It does not matter what actions you take, but rather that you are compassionate and concerned.

Social media is not the reality

More often than not, we compare ourselves to what we think we should be, especially when it comes to eco-green living. Our ideas are constantly clouded by what social media depicts as living a sustainable lifestyle. Influencers show off how they are turning "green" yet contradict this by editing out reality. As a student, or just a person trying to get by, I often find myself struggling to meet this image of perfection. 

Comparing ourselves to others is harmful

It can frequently feel like there is a benchmark we must match, and if we don't, are we truly doing our part to combat climate change? This is how it feels whenever you see Pinterest boards or Instagram posts that only show you the aspects of a sustainable journey that influencers want you to see. 

As a result, it's easy to think that to be an environmentalist, you must be outspoken in your activism and well known for your immense contributions or work to combat climate change. Not only is this is not the case, but it's also not realistic. 

Anyone who demonstrates care and concern for the environment is an environmentalist, not just those who are the most visible.

Perfection can lead to eco-anxiety

We do NOT have to be perfect to be doing our part. 

To avoid burnout, it's important to remember that having balance is key. Balance ensures that we don't get overwhelmed with the pressure of living an eco-friendly life with the resources available to us. Like anything that is not at equilibrium, being out of balance can lead to anxiety and a feeling like we have to uphold an unattainable 'standard' of perfection. 

No one wants to keep fighting for a cause from a place of overwork and overwhelm. 

To combat these feelings, there is a range of resources available. I especially like Gen Dread, an online newsletter that highlights issues around eco-anxiety in an accessible and calm way. 

Not everyone can take the same climate actions

It has become painfully clear that upholding a perfectly sustainable lifestyle is only attainable for the wealthy. When walking into the supermarket, plant-based products and sustainably grown foods are often significantly more expensive. 

For many, the choice in choosing the unsustainable option is clear because they aren't in a position to constantly sacrifice. Why is that? How come sustainability is only accessible to those who are contributing most to global warming? The irony is insane. 

We have to realise that not everyone is living in the same conditions, so it is ridiculous to think we can all take the same climate actions. 

It is impossible to live a completely zero-carbon lifestyle

A few months ago, my family and I discussed ways to become sustainability-conscious. We decided to take a range of actions, but overall, there was no way we could live a perfectly eco-friendly lifestyle. As a middle-class family of five, it was unrealistic to think that we could. 

In fact, no one can become zero-carbon purely by lifestyle choices alone. What we can all do is take action to lower our carbon footprints through incremental everyday changes. Doing so lets us lower our impact on the planet and make a difference but not in a way that will overwhelm us. 

After some discussion, my family realised that small changes to the way we lived could significantly lower our emissions. For example, if we only had a short distance to travel, we could walk instead of drive, which would set off fewer carbon emissions. As a family, we also planted a garden, providing us with a sustainable food source that lowered our carbon footprint further. 

While we are willing and able to make these climate-friendly choices, I appreciate that this isn't the case for everyone. There is no one size fits all approach, which is completely okay as everyone is in a different position. 

What's important is that you take action in a way that works for you.

Climate Action is NOT a one-person job

It's true; our actions make an impact but, to combat climate change, we need everyone on board. No one person has to shoulder the burden, and no one person can solve it alone. Climate action is a job for a community of passionate people and a world of environmentalists and change-makers. 

A quote I love from Sarah Jaquette Ray (on Co-Benefits Instagram page) reads, "Knowing that we are part of a collective gives us permission to rest. We can recover from our exertions knowing that others, who also have taken care to sustain themselves, can take over the work". This sums it up perfectly for me. We should never feel alone when fighting for our beliefs. Climate action is collective action, and we must remind ourselves of that. 

It is okay to be imperfect because we're all in this together. 

Learning is a powerful climate action tool

No matter the size of the climate action, every move we make is significant. However, to understand the importance, we need to first learn about the issues to advocate for them effectively. 

I have recently been exploring social media pages that realistically depict environmental activists, their journeys and the reality of being an environmentalist as a young adult. Some favourites include:

Finally, I leave you with this

We need to realise that climate action is collective action. It is provoked by words of change and characterised by the passion-driven hope we hold inside. 

Forward environmental movement is not defined by how often you take public transport or whether you have a compost bin. It is defined by how you promote change within the community. 

So, what are you doing to step away from perfection into community-wide change?

About the author

Written for Co-Benefits by Madeline Gray. Kia Ora, I'm Maddie, a first-year university student with an interest in all things sustainability but most of all love looking at ways that we can educate people on climate issues.

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