Many supporters of environmentalist causes will have winced when the extent of the global economic crisis of recent years was revealed. Just as environmental causes were gaining the attention and the purpose of the people in control of the levers of power, something came along that presented a very real problem – where environmental causes needed investment, could they hope to compete for a decreasing pot of money with other issues, the life-or-death matters like health and security?
As time has gone on there have been numerous individuals and organizations who have made the case that economic belt-tightening and environmental protection need not be mutually exclusive. Some expensive projects may have needed to be shelved in order to protect the financial balance of countries that risked sliding into depression and crisis, but sustainable living is a way of saving money and saving the planet. This crisis, which is still having an effect today, need not be the death-knell of the environmental cause.
One thing that is clear, though, is that governments have needed to make moves that are seen to be protecting the economy first, to put aside the risk that the world will be too deep in financial turmoil to do anything substantial. In cases where this has affected funding of local projects, this puts more pressure on the individual to do what they can – something which is worth doing for the good of the planet. It may be a bit tougher, but it is not beyond people who are willing to work together.
There is a clear and obvious difference of opinion in society with regard to the importance of the issues facing our environment, and in some cases there is a difference of opinion as to the existence of some of these issues. It is only natural that – as questioning, naturally curious beings – we might start to wonder whether the skeptical people are the ones who have got it right. Have we been working on environmental issues for nothing? Are we the fools for believing propaganda?
It is easy to look to the people questioning the importance, indeed the mere existence, of man-made climate change and call them “climate change deniers”. This language may echo the term “Holocaust denier” and inadvertently or deliberately place skeptics on the same moral level as those who deny the Holocaust, but is it something that environmentalists should apologise for? Does it make green-friendly people look like the cranks?
Those of us who believe strongly in the importance of looking after the environment have plenty of ammunition on our side. It is not beneficial to our argument to throw around accusations that make us look vindictive or wild-eyed. The facts point to the existence and the potential consequences of man-made climate change. Though some scientists disagree they are in the minority. So instead we should be unafraid to state our case strongly, and leave accusations to those who have no stronger argument to offer. People with a strong case have nothing to fear from debate.
As time goes on, we see more examples of environmental issues being raised in the classroom, and younger children being exposed to environmental subjects. Most schools now will have a policy of getting children involved in environmental projects, and this has led to accusations of brainwashing from some sources. While brainwashing is something that we have come to associate with totalitarian states, is it something we should be prepared to accept when it is for a cause we believe in?
Arguably, it can be said that education is a way of preparing children for the world that they will move into when they have outgrown their schooling. As this world comes to grips with environmental matters, the fact is that it is not a subject that will go away tomorrow. Therefore we might say that getting children involved in environmental projects is something that will prepare them for a world that is going to see the environment as an ever bigger issue the longer it is in question.
What children should not be burdened with is the guilt of choices they may make without realising their implications. A child who throws litter away without knowing the damage it causes is not some kind of thug. They should not be given a harsh lesson in the consequences of their actions. Instead, if the subject is raised, it should be in a way that lets them see how their actions can be positive. By encouraging them to dispose of litter cleanly, we can reward positive behavior.
When we see celebrities getting behind a cause, there are many of us – maybe even most of us – who will have the identical thought. “It must be good for publicity, their agent must have told them to do it”. And in many cases this may well be true – a celebrity who warns us in song or through film about the damage that we do to our environment, and then drives away from the studio in a gas-guzzling sports car certainly needs to look at their principles. However, many other celebrities are in this for real.
We often make the mistake of judging any group of people by the worst examples of their kind. Most prejudices arise this way, with entire racial or religious groupings becoming the subjects of witch-hunts because their number includes one or two who have done something terrible. And while racism and bigotry are a step or two worse than being skeptical about a celebrity’s motives, the fact is that the latter can also be negative for everyone. When we reach a certain level of skepticism it infects everything.
Just because we hear of one celebrity who has sold out their ethical principles for the purpose of some easy publicity, it does not mean that everyone who fronts a campaign is going to be the same. The truth is that celebrity participation can really boost an organisation’s pulling power, and if the celebrity involved really believes in the cause then so much the better. Let’s not be cynical because we have been suckered once.
Most communities in this day and age have at least some initiatives to aid green living, and your community is most likely no different. If you are interested in making a difference beyond your household, then this is usually the best place to start. Looking in the local newspaper and online you can find ways of helping that you never knew existed – and it is a way of meeting like-minded people and perhaps increasing the amount you do from there.
Helping create a greener town or city is something that might start small. People are always throwing away things that they feel they have no more use for – it might be an old television or cell phone and it might be a piece of furniture. Instead of just getting rid of it, there is always another option. One such popular option is what has become known as “freecycling” – if you don’t want that old radio, the chances are that someone else will. Instead of dumping it, why not let someone have it for free?
Another way of helping in the community is setting up an awareness project. A lot of people do not realise how simple it is to live a greener lifestyle, and by making them aware of ways that they can do it you can help them and the environment. Getting involved here, at the grass roots level, you can gain people’s attention for an important cause and help them lead a simpler life.
The importance of being good to the environment is one that is often balanced against the expense. Many families, especially in the current financial climate, will find that they can afford either food or principles, and in such a situation the latter is always going to lose out. However, the truth is that you can be green and live affordably if you know how, although you may not be able to do everything that someone with more disposable income might.
Having little money often means you cannot live as close to work as you would like. This may rule out the short walk to work and even cycling. However, if your area is served by public transport then this may be more advantageous than driving, as it will help the environment and you may well save some money on fuel. If you live outside the main shopping catchment area but have more local stores, then you may be able to walk there and back – although this becomes harder when the local store is more expensive.
Recycling containers is something that always benefits the environment and can help you make something of leftovers. Making more food and freezing some of it means that you cut costs that way, and use less packaging into the bargain. No-one is going to blame you for unavoidable compromises, and if anyone does then they are the ones with the problem. Not you. Doing what you can is a whole lot more noble than cursing those who do less than you can.
In life, we must compromise from time to time. Even the principles that we hold so dear sometimes come under pressure when the situation becomes grave. And for an environmentalist the concern about compromising arises on a regular basis. If you get in the car to drive somewhere are you junking your principles? If you buy food that is not locally sourced, are you a traitor to the planet? If you let a glass jar fall into the wrong garbage bin, are you sticking your tongue out at Mother Nature?
Think about your other principles if you have a problem with the above questions. We all have principles and we cannot always live perfectly by those principles. We may always want to help the needy, but we may not be able to in every case. We may always want to think before judging, but anger can override that principle. We are human, and if you never slip in your principles then you should take a large bow, because you have managed something that hardly anyone ever does.
If you sometimes let your environmental principles slip, it is not because you are a charlatan. Sometimes we have to let one go because there is a reason we cannot live up to it. Sometimes we make mistakes and we cannot just repair them. As long as you live your life by sound general principles, a mistake can be forgotten and forgiven – but breaking them when it suits you is another matter, and one that is harder to justify.
Any big plan to make a difference in the world, in this day and age, is likely to be met by at least one person, and probably several more with the question “And who’s paying for all this?”. It is typically a rhetorical question, although they’re usually prepared to offer the answer themselves anyway. The implication, or the bald statement is that they fully expect the cost of the project to come out of their taxes and they don’t much appreciate this frittering away of their hard-earned cash.
Now, there are arguments to be made for and against that argument. Certainly, there always ought to be some consultation before any municipal or federal body spends tax money on a big project. However, the idea that all environmental projects amount to stealth taxes on the citizen is one that falls somewhat wide of the mark. As often as not, the funds are raised for these projects entirely separately from the tax levy – and equally often, the projects concerned are for the betterment of the area as a whole.
The idea that governments are prepared to visibly cock a snook at their taxpayers to fund an unpopular pet project defies political logic, apart from anything else. Environmental projects are rarely, if ever, just an excuse to milk the taxpayer for a few extra coins. More often, they are designed to stop a blossoming problem before it becomes a crisis. If we ignore the various problems that may arise, who will be paying? Us, our kids, and generations to come.
The idea of environmental concern has been twisted by many people into something that is practised by people who are prepared to blow away everything that is considered normal and reasonable. Let recycling take hold, say some, and it will be no time at all before the environmental lobby are forcing us to place wind turbines on our roofs and make our own electricity by jumping on a treadmill to save the planet’s resources.
Therefore, people who have considered making a difference to the state of our environment start to reconsider. “I’d like to live in a greener way, but I’m not some kind of totalitarian eco-warrior and I don’t want people to think I am” is a fairly common concern of a number of people. And it’s reasonable enough because no-one wants to be the subject of ridicule. But it doesn’t need to be that black and white, or green and white.
You can make a difference in the home without going on marches. Just because you re-use an empty milk carton it doesn’t mean you are going to set fire to your neighbor’s car. You can help the environment without becoming an anarcho-terrorist. There is a world of difference between valuing the future of your planet, your country or your town and suddenly wanting to take over the world. So try not to listen to the skeptics. It’s easy to understand their position, but letting them change your mind without really presenting a coherent argument is not so easy to understand.
Some years ago the idea of cycling to work, or to anywhere that was more than a matter of minutes away, became about as fashionable as flared corduroy trousers. Arrive at the office with leaves stuck to your face and hair like a bowl of stiff spaghetti? You might as well have suggested that someone travel to work on a pogo stick. However, cycling now seems to be back in vogue, and not just because it helps the planet.
We all know that cycling is a good way of keeping fit. This is one reason why a lot of people are intrigued by the idea of leaving the car at home and hopping on their bike. There is also the fact that cyclists can go where no motorist can – enabling short cuts that get you to work before anyone else. And yes, there is the environmental aspect of the process. When the traffic is sitting gridlocked during what we laughingly refer to as “rush-hour”, it’s belching out fumes. A cyclist making the same journey gets there quicker and releases far fewer noxious gases.
This idea is so popular that there are now major municipalities the world over sponsoring cycle-hire programs. London is the latest to unveil such a program, and there are many more set to follow. There may be teething troubles along the way, but if you are looking for a way to get to work without having to brave long queues, then this is a good one – and many office buildings now have showers to enable you to clean up before sitting down to work.