Inspiration

Environmentalism in 2020: People, pets, planet, and rationalism

Hello, friends.

How are you? Are you hanging in there? Times sure are tough right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, a revolution, and a depression–and all that is notwithstanding the environmental degradation that sparked the creation of this space in the first place, though we all know it’s all interrelated, the causes interwoven with one another like a complicated tapestry.

And yet.

We go on. We continue to move forward and fight for social justice and environmental justice. We continue to read and write, to call our friends and family, to take care of our homes. It’s the ultimate act of hope, I think, in this climate to take small steps every day. We believe things will be better, and we show it by folding our laundry, by cooking wholesome meals for our families, by walking our dogs and playing with our cats.

We move forward, step by single step. And that, no matter how big or how small the step is, that single step forward is an act of hope.

And yet.

I’ve been feeling pretty low. Frustrated. At my wit’s end, tbh, with much of what I’m seeing in the “zero-waste” community. I’m going to get into that more toward the end of this post–along with what I’m doing about it–but I wanted to check in here to talk about some of the key issues we’re all going to face in the second half of this year. It’s my hope to talk about some challenges but to use those challenges to inspire some hope. Because, sure, things look rough right now, but we have every reason to hope and to be hopeful.

Environmentalism in 2020: People, pets, planet, and rationalism... can they coexist?

Why “environmentalism” and not “sustainability”?

You probably noticed the title: environmentalism in 2020 rather than sustainability in 2020.

Is it just me, or does it seem like no one talks about environmentalism anymore? It’s all about sustainability, and sustainability seems to have been co-opted into all the things we buy, all the things we consume, all the things we use up. That’s important, don’t get me wrong. We all need stuff. We all need to buy things. Buying better things is certainly, well, better. But it’s not the end. It’s not even the beginning.

Environmentalism is the beginning.

Basic Google definition: “concern about and action aimed at protecting the environment.”

Is that where you started down this path? Because you were inspired to protect the environment?

I was, and that’s where I started: in a flip-top desk in a third-grade classroom in the 80s. My mind exploded when I learned about acid rain and the hole in the ozone. I created the S.O.P. (Save Our Planet) club and got my classmates out on the trails around town cleaning up trash. We wrote a play about recycling that our principal allowed us to perform for the school. We drafted and typed (on a typewriter!) letters to our representatives.

I have been an environmentalist since.

Does that mean I’m perfect? Of course not. I’m not even close. I love this earth and all the life it sustains, but damn if I’m not frustrated with how the environmental movement has morphed. The focus, I fear, is shifting away from protecting the environment and more toward a bunch of temporary notions. Who can post the most beautifully-curated zero-waste swap pic to their Insta. Who can store their trash in one mason jar. Who can one-up every effort posted by well-meaning beginners. And so on.

I honestly can’t even tell you how many questions and comments I get from people who say something like: I want to do better, but I don’t know where to start. I posted in XYZ Facebook group, and they jumped down my throat. Now I’m intimidated and still don’t know where to start.

I refuse to let perfection be the enemy of the good.

To me, the concept of sustainability is a sound one, but the spirit has been misdirected toward the wrong things. The two that I’m struggling with the most: making sustainability just another way to buy more things, and turning sustainability into a judgey competition that prevents so many well-meaning people from dipping their toes into the water for fear of being skewered online.

And yet.

As I said, I’m hopeful.

Because people who care about the environment generally care about people and animals, too–since we all share the same environment! There are more good than bad, more toiling behind the scenes to be helpful than harmful, more willing to jump in and share words of support than those wanting to tear down.

That’s what this space is for.

I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they’re not doing anything good enough. Your efforts, big and small, add up. Your efforts matter.

Our Role as Humans

Somehow we need to balance caring for humans with caring for the environment. Human welfare and animal welfare matter. When our “sustainability” efforts diminish that, we all suffer. The movement fails. We need to care for others, first and foremost.

I had two experiences last year that really shined a light on the negativity infiltrating the environmental movement. I’m not going to dig into detail, but the first was my appendix perforated and I was hospitalized. The second was my daughter as born at 35 weeks and needed to stay in the NICU. Both of those events used up a ton of resources–all the hospital supplies, all the takeout food or hospital cafeteria food, all the gas driving to and from the NICU that was about an hour south of us, the plastic sleeves that covered our phones, the disposable bottles to feed the baby, and so on. Maybe we could’ve found ways to handle, say, the takeout containers, but in the moment, our daughter’s welfare mattered more.

And yet.

In a zero-waste Facebook group I recently left, there was a discussion where the poster calling people in a position similar to ours “lazy” and “entitled.” “Selfish!” the commenters cried! “They could’ve packed bulk nuts in their own packaging for snacks!” “Why didn’t they bring their silverware from home? It’s not like it’s hard to plan ahead!”

Man, I felt for the people they were lambasting who were also going through a crisis. In a crisis, their family member chose to share their story to criticize them–behind the veil of a closed FB group, of course–rather than to say to their relatives, “Hey, what can I do to support you during this difficult time?” Or, heck, even consider that they might have been in too much stress to think about, say, snagging a reusable straw on their way to the hospital.

Our role as humans is to care for one another, first and foremost.

As soon as we stop doing that, as soon as we stop taking care of each other, why give a shit about the environment anyway because we’ve made our planet a terrible place to live?

If someone’s trying–they switch from using plastic grocery store bags for poop pickup and go with an imperfect compostable option, or they swap out their beef cat food for a chicken version, or they adopt a vegetarian pet instead of a meat eater, whatever–no matter how big or how small, we should not jump in and immediately criticize. Thank the person for making an effort. That’s all you need to do.

Yes, we can all do better, but we all need to start somewhere.

Care first. That’s the best place to start.

Our Role as Animal Lovers

I suspect you’re here because you love animals. Dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, fish, snakes, whatever animal you love, you’re here. And that matters.

As animal lovers, it is our responsibility to care for creatures that are effectively helpless in the face of environmental degradation. Owls aren’t involved in urban sprawl. Fireflies don’t contribute to water pollution. Giraffes don’t drive cars. Cats don’t chop down trees.

Yet they’re all affected by the actions that we humans take.

Not everyone loves animals as much as we do, btw. It’s shocking. I know. But it’s true. However, everyone needs a biodiverse planet. Therefore, our role as animal lovers is to find ways to support the animal life on the planet, from the pets we share our homes with to the wildlife that inhabits our backyards to the animals and insects on the other side of the globe.

There’s so much we can all do–from switching to a better cat litter to “adopting” an animal in a preserve to sharing efforts and articles on social media to volunteering for a local rescue to tossing our dog’s brushed-out fur into the yard for the birds to use. Big or small, we animal lovers can help every day.

And yet.

My Ultimate Frustration & What I’m Doing About It

I’m constantly hearing from folks who are concerned that pet brands aren’t doing enough, the pet industry isn’t doing enough, I’m not doing enough.

I absolutely love any opportunity for rational debate, but I fear environmentalism in 2020 disallows rational debate.

Everywhere I look, someone asks an honest question and gets tackled. I’ve left so many Facebook groups and stopped following so many Instagram accounts because the comments were just so mean-spirited. I basically stopped posting to this page’s Instagram entirely because I couldn’t reconcile the meanness on other accounts to the spirit of the environmental movement.

But, avoiding social media and not writing doesn’t do anything to change the dialogue. So, here’s what I’m doing about it:

I commit to this space always and forever being a kind, supportive, generous space where anyone can come ask any question and get an honest, open answer. This will be a judgement-free zone. While we are open to rational debate, and that includes critical examinations of our own practices, too, we are not open to mean-spirited or unkind comments.

Everyone is doing their best. If someone’s not as far along this path as you are, think about how you can reach a hand back and give a boost.

Environmentalism in the 6 months ahead: There’s hope.

I believe in us, in humanity. We’re all going through a lot right now, but I have hope.

Do you?

I’d love to hear from YOU and hear about your experience on this journey of lessening your impact on the planet. Are you feeling supported? Is there anything I can do to help? Or, are there any great social channels you think we should all follow?

Regardless. So much love headed your way. Chin up and take good care.

2 Comments

  • Brian

    Hi Maggie I would like to start off by thanking you for all your kind and encouraging words. I would like to discuss ways to eliminate pollution caused by dog poop. I have been working extremely hard on this subject sence 2016. I have kept mostly private do to the issues. Quite frankly I am terrified to join any type of social media or discussion group’s. So again thank you for the encouragement to reply to your post.

    • maggieZWP

      How wonderful, Brian! So glad to hear about your efforts!

      I understand being afraid to join discussion on social media. I absolutely can sympathize with that. I’ve experienced quite a lot of negativity online, so I get wanting to protect yourself from that. I will say, though, that we need more voices discussing these topics in a kind, encouraging way. Judgement and criticism only serve to alienate and to sever conversations, which totally halts progress. Hopefully we can find better ways to have these conversations where people like you don’t feel terrified to jump in!

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