February 4, 2011

Why I’m an environmentalist and what that means

Bike at sunset in OctoberYes, I’m an environmentalist. Dirty word, right? I remember writing “closet environmentalist” in my Facebook profile as if it were something to be ashamed of. I realised after awhile that it isn’t, and defining myself as one is as familiar as the back of my hand. I remember someone, perhaps David Suzuki, saying we’re all environmentalists, but that requires a definition I can’t quite remember. It has something to do with our reliance on nature, I think. At any rate, here I am to tell you why I’m an environmentalist and what that really means.

I grew up surrounded by nature at home, in my community and at school. I knew nearly every root and rock of my elementary school’s forest so I could run and jump through it as fast as I wanted without tripping. My parents, childhood immigrants, instilled values and habits like sensible consumption, not wasting food (especially leftovers), used clothing (e.g. hand-me-downs), using cloth rags, closing the fridge door, conserving water, turning out the lights, saving and reusing containers and recycling. All these things that make the “what you can do list” are things I’ve been doing my whole life because it just made sense and saved us money. I’ve been using cloth bags and washing my clothes in cold water and hanging to dry since before it went mainstream.

Trees swayingI remember when I was nine being upset upon returning from a trip to find a local forest cleared to make way for housing, and over 15 years later they still haven’t really planted the hill. At age 10 I went to Tofino and witnessed clearcut forests for the first time with some distress. I’ve always loved trees, and nature in general, and disliked litter(ers). I used to stick my tongue out at truckers on the highway (not very nice of me, I know) because of the pollution.

In my fourth year at Emily Carr, there was a heavy focus on sustainability themes for grad projects, and that, combined with my Environmental Ethics course really galvanized it. Living in Surrey for 2 years introduced me to (un)sustainable urban planning, transportation issues and the farmer’s market. One of my sisters got us started on healthier options — food and cosmetics for example — and for me it started spreading across my life.

I make the choices I make because I care deeply about keeping our air, water and soil clean; maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems; treating animals with due care; and being sensitive to humanitarian issues stemming from environmental degradation. I’m concerned about our trash persisting and growing, and about our garbage and toxins damaging wildlife (marine included).

I’m concerned about maintaining green space and shoreline accessiblity. I’m concerned about children growing up without experiencing abundance in nature, or clean air, or understanding where our food comes from. I’m concerned that the lust for financial and physical wealth over emotional and natural wealth is leading to irreversible damage that already impacts our quality of life and may pose a great threat to our future.

My feet on the beachI’m deeply in love with the forest and ocean (my places of “worship” so to speak). I respect creatures, rocks, water, air, sky. I understand that we’re merely borrowing this place from our children and grandchildren, and must leave it in a better condition than that in which we found it. I understand that there is no economy without the environment, that we are the environment, we are nature and it is not something separate. I understand that the earth would have been well off without us, but we would be nothing without it. I believe that everything we need can be got from the earth without making toxic chemical, aka man-made, substitutions (e.g. vinyl instead of rubber; polyester instead of cotton; flavourings instead of the real thing; natural cosmetics) and that the natural option is superior. I am frustrated by our government and yes, I do get angry.

I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything or thinking too hard most of the time because when you make a choice of B over A once, you keep returning to it. It’s easy now. I don’t suggest a return to hunter-gatherer society, or giving up technology or electricity. Nothing I’m doing is radical (well, to most people anyway, I think); I’m not being an extremist. I don’t eat granola and I am not a vegetarian but I eat free-range, unmedicated meat. I occasionally accept and enjoy a ride home. I try not to guilt-trip people including myself. I can still be selfish and materialistic. I love cocoa (fair trade organic in reusable or recyclable container, please) and mandarin oranges. (My hot chocolate is made with unadulterated organic whipping cream that comes in a glass bottle from a farm in Vancouver.) I don’t try to run people down on the sidewalk with my bicycle. I probably would chain myself to the magnolia out front if it was under threat. Recycled toilet paper is perfectly fine. Culture and nature are not at odds. Living within our means, within the limitations of this planet doesn’t require us to sacrifice quality of life; it urges us to improve it.

In Sidney, BCI act with the knowledge that none of us are perfect but that we can all be better every day. I strive to lighten my footprint with all of the above in mind by making smart choices and being mindful of my actions. In my work I play a role in changing perspectives and values, engaging in dialogue and inspiring meaningful action. All this I do because I want to, I need to, and why wouldn’t I? After all, the alternative just doesn’t make sense.

When I feel alive, I try to imagine a careless life, a scenic world where the sunsets are all breathtaking.Beirut

75th graphicThis daily green blog is in support of David Suzuki’s 75th birthday fundraising campaign put on by the David Suzuki Foundation. Please help me out by sponsoring me online now.

Note: I am writing solely on my own behalf, and do not claim to represent the David Suzuki Foundation or its views here.