You are a member of the environmental movement. Yep, you are. The English word member entered the language around 1300, deriving from 11th century Old French membre and the Latin membrum. As the definition goes, you are “an integral part of the body with a distinct function.” Did you not remember? That word comes from the Latin rememorari, which is re- (again) + memorari (be mindful of).
This blog serves as a weekly aid to help you remember your role in the appreciation and preservation of our planetary body. Some of you participate with UUCA’s Climate Action Team. Some of you belong to other congregations’ green teams. Many of you contribute financially to conservation and activist organizations. All of us are members, though, whether our name appears on a list or not.
We all care about the environment and recognize how interdependence maintains critical ecological equilibrium. We acknowledge how excess consumption and destructive extraction processes have contributed to hazardous climate change. We are not identical in our thinking, though, and we don’t necessarily move in lockstep.
“Even though their ultimate goals might be similar – to save the eco-systems or the planet from destruction – not every environmental activist tries to achieve the goal in the same manner,” The Earth Project asserts. Consider your own beliefs and behaviors to see where you fall in the Project’s “What Kind of Environmentalist Are You?” categories.
“If you believe that the destruction of the Earth is imminent unless radical changes are made to environmental policies, then apocalyptic environmentalism could speak to you.
“If you recycle as much as possible before throwing away trash, old clothing, or toys, and seek out alternative energies for your home and vehicle, then emancipatory environmentalism is your school of thought for preserving the planet.
“Free market environmentalism is going to entice those who believe in free markets and capitalism because it seeks solutions using the law to help conserve resources and save money.
“If you think that it is divine providence that gave humans the responsibility of managing the planet, you might be an evangelical environmentalist.
“Conservation and preservation play a role in most forms of environmentalism. [This category of activists] seek to conserve resources or preserve resources and nature for future generations, although they go about it in different ways.”
Does one of those categories describe where you’re coming from, or are you more of a hybrid? Do you – like many of us – struggle to reconcile the conditioning of your education, your upbringing, and your lifestyle with the increasingly urgent call for radical measures to reduce greenhouse gasses? Do you feel a tightening in your chest when you read alarming headlines and horrifying statistics? Do you anguish about your own agency in disrupting a status quo that’s woefully out of sync with environmental preservation? You are a member, and this is what we members share.
“The writer Wendell Berry was right a long time ago when he said the environmental crisis is a crisis of character,” Michael Pollan says in “What’s Wrong with Environmentalism.” “It’s really about how we live. … Find one thing in your life that doesn’t involve spending money that you could do, one change that would make a contribution both to the fact of global warming and your sense of helplessness about global warming. I think what people are looking for, and why people respond to these kinds of suggestions, is that they do feel powerless. These issues are so big and so daunting and so complex that either you throw up your hands in despair, or you say, ‘Let the experts work it out.’
“I think what people want is a greater sense of their own power to change something now,” Pollan says. “We’re really impatient. We’ve been waiting for our leaders to do something about this issue for a really long time, and people like the idea that there is something they can do now, and that that something will matter – both for their own outlook and for the facts on the ground that we face. …
“Bill McKibben puts it that doing things privately – changing our light bulbs, putting in gardens – is like calisthenics. This is getting ready for the big changes we’re all going to have to make. I think that’s a healthy way to look at it.”
Pollan’s thoughts were published 15 years ago, and to many of us, the “big changes” seem even more pressing now as we witness increasingly frequent weather disasters, heartbreaking species extinction, and exasperating political stagnation. Because you and I are members who think about these things and allow ourselves to feel the anxiety and grief, we need each other to buoy hopefulness and resolve. We have to be careful, though.
“Environmental activists are weird,” Joakim Book writes in ”The Real Reason Nobody Takes Environmental Activists Seriously.” “Filled with a deep-rooted desire to do good, to save the world from imminent destruction, and to preach the ecological gospel to anybody (un)willing to hear it, they wield a surprising amount of influence – in the media if not in the halls of power. They get a lot of cred and admiration for their efforts, but perhaps they shouldn’t.
“Most people agree with their creed: humans greatly impact our environment, perhaps to the detriment of fundamental ecological systems, and we ought to reduce that. Few of us accept their unrelenting extremism and unwillingness to accept trade-offs. What bothers the opponents of environmental activism is not the environmentally conscious goals or even facts presented, but the activists’ blatant hypocrisy and aura of sanctimonious religiosity.
“In the activists’ eyes,” Book explains, “every action is classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ if it has easy-to-understand first-order environmental benefits or harms: recycling plastic is good, littering is bad; planting trees is good, one-use takeaway bags are bad; heating your house with “renewable energy” is good, burning gasoline is bad.
“The trouble begins when these individually good actions are coupled with bad ones. What if I drove my gasoline-gobbling car to the tree-planting site? What if recycled plastic, as in the U.S., ends up in the same landfill as the other trash, neutralizing my ‘good’ efforts? What if I discard (or lose) my sustainable metal straws before I’ve used them enough times for the CO2 emissions to break even compared to single-use plastic?
“The inability to see these chains of decisions is a qualifying criterion for becoming an environmental activist. For the rest of us,” he writes, “it is too much to stomach a sermon about the essential virtue of reducing one’s climate impact while knowing that the preacher, in other domains of their life, completely negates the minor climate benefit of whatever action they implore us to take. The hypocrisy is real.”
Ouch. As members, we navigate together the day-to-day inconsistencies, the joint culpability, and the challenges of “putting our money where our mouth is.” Living our values is no easy task, and we don’t have to pressure ourselves to become exemplars for everyone else. Rather, we set our intentions and grow more mindful of our choices. We resist judging others and avoid adopting the adversarial us-versus-them view that polarizes and undermines bridge-building – the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation impact us all.
Remember that we’re all members of the environmental movement. Let’s keep thinking, feeling, resolving, acting, creating, lobbying, experimenting, mourning, fighting, dreaming, and hoping together.
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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team extends a radical welcome to activists, contemplatives, readers, meditators, questioners, tree hugging hippies, scientists, policy wonks, radicals, pacifists, nature enthusiasts, and all who seek community as we navigate our changing times together. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund grant opportunity. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT.