When I describe myself as a pragmatic environmentalist, I pretty much immediately get asked what I mean by that.For starters, it's a ten-syllable phrase that's in urgent need of a snappy abbreviation.
(Side note: When I first tried to define these concepts back in 2003, the best I could do was "smart consumption" (just four syllables!); meaning that consumers (you and me) were smart (enlightened) about what they did and how they did it; what they bought (and when) & what they did with it.
I grant that this phrase doesn't quite cut it either, so for now we'll go with pragmatic environmentalism, PE for short. If you've any suggestions for something less cumbersome, leave a comment below.)
Pragmatic Environmentalism: A Personal DefinitionOne of the best definitions I've seen comes from the strapline of the (now sadly defunct - at least, no updates since May 2009) pragmatic environmentalist blog:
"Pragmatic Environmentalism is characterized by clear and well-structured argumentation. A pragmatic environmentalist does not concentrate on never-ending ideological debate but on specific problems and feasible solutions."I like this definition; it's succinct and reasonably understandable. I particularly like the first part, about well-structured argumentation. To my mind, this phrase indicates the process of reasoned decision-making, the active choices that are involved. PE isn't about blindly following trends; it requires figuring out what's the right thing for our individual morals and ethos, our particular situation. But - as the second sentence indicates - PE always seeks to do something, rather than getting hung up on finding the perfect Right Thing To Do. The pragmatic environmentalist delights in getting stuck in, rather than getting stuck in the circular debates that lead to nowhere but choice paralysis.
Pragmatic Environmentalism Celebrates Rather Than CastigatesI think one of the other important things that pragmatic environmentalism brings is the notion of celebrating the very fact of doing something, of taking a stand, rather than the much more common approach - the easier, lazier option - of doing nothing at all.
Pragmatic environmentalism is not a binary proposition, not an all-or-nothing lifestyle. It's not about living a certain way all the time, and beating ourselves up when we (obviously) don't achieve it for some reason. But it is about enlightened best efforts; about knowing why we choose to take some action, as well as acknowledging the limits of that choice, that there will be times when we're not able to do something we normally would. Pragmatic environmentalism is about celebrating our successes rather than berating ourselves when we slip.
Perhaps you've heard the phrase: "a lapse is not a relapse", meaning that a single instance of a behaviour does not (and need not) lead to multiple occurrences of that behaviour. The pragmatic environmentalist knows that, every now and then, not everything that could be recycled will get recycled. They don't use these lapses as an excuse not to recycle at all, though; they don't berate and curse themselves for their "failure" on the odd occasion they don't recycle one thing. Instead, they roll with it, and get on with the next time.
A pragmatic environmentalist knows that every positive action they take is one less negative action: every journey without the car reduces their use of fossil fuels, their carbon emissions; every nappy reused is one less in landfill. They know that the balance of their actions is going to be positive.
So you might choose to define PE by acknowledging that
It's better to do something than spend forever worrying about the Right Thing to do (and consequently doing nothing).and accept the fact that
It's okay not to do something if you understand the consequences of your decision, and you've actively participated in the decision making.Or, I suppose, you could also say that pragmatic environmentalism is:
Being true to your own (environmental) principles.In order to achieve this, you need to define your environmental principles; you need to understand what you want to do, why certain things are important to you, why others simply do not fit in your life. Weigh your decisions carefully. Be selective. Prioritise. You might research the various options - pragmatically! Try them out for a period of time, and decide - I mean, actively decide - why you're doing some things rather than others.
Everyone gets to choose what pragmatic environmentalism means to them, to their particular ideals and lifestyle. We all get our own personal definition; a moral choice, a code of conduct. Understanding those choices; accepting that they're often a balance between several conflicting options, the balance that works for us. And then living them, making a real and concrete difference in the ways that we value, that matter to us.
That's worth ten syllables, I think.
Next in part 2: Practical Examples of pragmatic environmentalism in practice.