Not Evangelism

Friday, November 26, 2010

Types of environmentalism

My last couple of posts on the subject of what makes an environmentalist have prompted some strong reactions and comments. Some people hold a belief that there is a precise definition of environmentalist that excludes those people that don't meet the criteria. Or that environmentalism is somehow an either-or concept.

Last week, I wrote about how environmentalism is not binary. This week I want to deal with the many different types of environmentalism.

Types of environmentalist

What makes an environmentalist? Which principles and actions, which morals and ethics, choices and beliefs make a person "environmental"? What intrinsic characteristics do all environmentalists share? What can we point at to measure whether someone is green?

The answer to those questions rather depends where you're standing.

Every environmentalist is concerned with - interested in - the environment. That definition is not limited to the green environment, the natural world; there are social, ethical, financial environments.

Physical environmentalism is perhaps the most obvious kind; the conservation of the wild, green environment; the preservation of natural resources, perhaps through the avoidance of fossil fuels and the associated pollution. Perhaps through some kind of - if not rejection, then amelioration - of the first world lifestyle. This kind of environmentalism is often easy to measure, in terms of carbon emissions, for example, or food miles.

And then there's what might be called social environmentalism - something harder to see, harder to measure. The kind of environmentalism that is concerned with the well-being of the human environment, of the people around us. Corporate-social responsibility, philanthropy: surely these are forms of environmentalism enacted not on the physical stage, but on a social (ethical, moral) stage?

Social environmentalism embraces the everyday around us; the people around us. If I walk past an empty room, I switch the lights off. If I see dirty plates in the kitchen sink, I put them in the dishwasher (and if the dishwasher is full, I put it on). Some people would call that being decent, a kind of moral code (and some people would claim that it's impossible to have without some kind of religion). I regard it as ethical environmentalism.

There are as many different types of environmentalism as there are types of environmentalist. From the dyed-in-the-organic-wool hardy greens, who eschew cars entirely and live in sustainable communities, to those occasional recyclers, environmentalism has broad arms and embraces many practitioners. This does not make it weak or dilute, it makes it all-encompassing and relevant.

Environmentalism can be expressed in a number of ways; whether it's to save money, or conserve natural resources; whether it's philanthropy or a set of ethics .

There are, in other words, many different shades of green.

My type of environmentalism

As for me, I recycle. I choose local food. I limited my carbon usage, my consumption of limited natural resources - and a hundred other different expressions of my own environmentalism. This is my personal shade of green. It might not change the world, not overnight, not on its own. But it changes my world, and it does influence others. I've seen it happen.

Me, I'm mostly happy with my choices (and working on the rest), and comfortable with the fact that they stack with my own personal morals. I understand the choices that I make, and I know that they're reasoned decisions.

Really that's all any of us can ask for, all any of us can strive for. And, actually, that's more than enough.

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