Yep, We are All Hypocrites; You Don't Have to be Perfect to Help Save the Planet

by - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Yep, We are All Hypocrites; You Don't Have to be Perfect to Help Save the Planet

I am so glad you care about the environment. That is a big freaking deal, but it can feel scary and intimidating, because there are so many things to change or you KNOW you are still getting things wrong. Maybe you don't know the science enough. Or you don't feel involved enough. Or you still get a pop in a bottle once in a while (ok, all the time).

This "not enough"ness is a classic marker of the way our culture teaches us to think about ourselves. It perpetuates eco-concious cultures and activism as well, but I think the scrutiny does more harm than good.

It has been an amazing fall for the growing visibility of environmentalists. Between the massive climate strikes, Greta Thuneberg's media-covered travels, and even the British royal family taking a stand for the environment, you don't have to look that far to see someone caring about the planet.

But with all of this positive movement, there comes a lot of critique. The internet has become this hotbed of "think pieces," and if you are trying to make progress, there is always someone writing to say why the progress isn't good enough.

Harry and Meghan got a minute of press about their environmental work, and weeks of coverage about their hypocrisy and privilege in using private planes for travel.

In the days after the climate march (and even on the signs there), some vegans said you couldn't really be an environmentalist if you still eat animal products.

The assumption here is that if you aren't doing everything right, that your shortcomings undermine your efforts. That it all boils down to hypocrisy. It makes it scary to stick your neck out and say you care, because our links to the wellness of the planet links to everything we do. It can feel like caring makes you vulnerable to critique in every part of our lives. The list of things someone will criticize you for seems nearly endless:

-too much meat - too many children - too much plastic - not political enough - not informed enough - using too much energy - wasting too much time- not zero waste enough - not vegan enough - too much flying - too much shopping -  and on and on and on.

All of these arguments are valid, and we have plenty of reason to take them seriously. We should consume less animals and fly less! But if we haven't totally tackled that part of our personal lives, have we already failed?

When it comes to getting people involved, if we make it all or nothing, we will end up with nothing. 

Ok, so to move forward, let's start on a shared assumption that we are almost all terrible hypocrites. I am. You are. Let's assume we are all making mistakes or doing harm in our personal lives every damn day.

We all still participate in a consumer/capitalist system that is destructive to the environment because there is really very little way out on our own. In fact, the chances we have to avoid this hypocrisy depends ENTIRELY on our privilege.

Want an example? Our tiny blog gets criticism most every day, but one day was my favorite. After writing a blog on eco-concious shoes, I took major heat from vegans for mentioning leather options. And I got criticism from zero-waste friends for including vegan options that used all synthetic (plastic) materials.

Both criticisms are totally justified! And it can be incredibly difficult to find the perfect options that are faultless to everyone. But most of us can't walk barefoot everyday (as much as I would love it). Shoes become an apt (though small) metaphor for our individual decisions- perfect doesn't always exist, and different priorities are at play, so it can be hard to get it 100% right.

This can make things feel pretty hopeless, but our personal decisions are only a part of the story.

What matters most is that the pool of people who care, who are getting involved, who are paying attention is constantly growing. I have only been involved for a few years, but I have watched the pool of people deeply invested in taking care of our planet grow exponentially.

When you thought of environmentalist even a decade, you probably imagine one of two things- a scientist or a super crunchy hippie. Now, so many of us don't fit either description and that is GOOD. In fact, it is the best possible thing that could happen, because it shows that anyone and everyone can care about the planet.

There isn't one right way to be an environmentalist. 

That means that you absolutely belong and are needed here. The things that make you think you aren't good enough are exactly why we need you- everyone from every walk (and every kind of hypocrisy) needs to get involved.

Our individual choices are nothing compared to the power of our voices in collective action. You are enough, and we all can do more. 

The sheer numbers of people paying attention needs to scare the pants off of people in leadership in government (and in business). This is the most important thing going on right now, so if someone makes you feel like you aren't good enough to be in the club, fuck'em. Because they don't get the real point, which is that no individual perfection will get us nearly as close to saving our climate, our biodiversity, and humanity itself as collective action.

We want a big club. We need a big club. We can't survive without a club of millions. People with different bodily, mental, and cultural abilities. People with different cultural and class backgrounds. People with tons of time to give and people with very little time to give. People who can never reach that "perfect" mark.

We need you to care. We can worry about perfect later.

I love this quote from the Zero Waste Chef, and I think it resonates with all forms of enviornmentalism:

from zero waste california

Worried about not doing enough? These are the four questions to keep circling back to:

1. Am I putting my convictions into action? 

If you care about the environment, you need to do something about it. Something that reaches out past your personal choices and participates in collective action. THAT SAID, this can take about a million different forms. Let's name a couple:

- Joining environmental organizations.
- Go participate in marches and other actions when they come up.
- Giving money to environmental causes.
- Calling your representatives.
- Holding businesses accountable.
- Joining campaigns.
- Starting an environmental group where you are.
- Go to a Beach Clean Up
- Writing letters.
- Planting Trees.
- Making green changes in your workplace, community centers, or places of worship.

This list goes on and on. You can do something in rural and urban areas. You can do it with loads of time or very little. The more you do from this list, the better.

2. Do the people who know and love me see how important this is to me? 

One of the most important things we can do to fight Climate Crisis is to simply talk about it. It doesn't have to be constant facebook posts or Thanksgiving throwdowns with your relatives (though I'm not opposed to either of those things). We know that people change their minds about environmental issues through their interactions with friends and loved ones. That means that you have the most impact with the people you already deal with everyday.

I know for a fact that these efforts have MAJOR impacts on the world. Every pebble you toss has ripples. So if you change Bob's mind, he can go on and change Francine's mind. And she could change someone else's mind. It goes on and on.

When you are talking to other parent friends, be brave and mention you are worried for your kids future. When your favorite grocery cashier asks if you want plastic bags, tell them you are trying to give them up because you read how bad they are for the environment. Buy water bottles as birthday gifts.

All those little efforts and conversations add up, and they are powerful.

3. Can I tell a difference in how I am living my life? 

Personal choice and collective action play into each other constantly, and they both make a difference when done in mass. So much of these things is closely tied to gross income inequality, and I will never have as much individual power as a billionaire to turn this sinking ship around. BUT, I would never say that what we do as individuals doesn't matter; it's simply not true. Our personal lives are the sphere where we have the most control! So let's think about how to measure personal progress without getting discouraged.

Ok, you aren't a perfect vegan living shoeless in a cabin in the woods. Me either. Rather than judging yourself against an (impossible?) ideal, judge yourself against where you were last year.

Have you changed your habits as a consumer?
Eating a lot less meat? Creating less food waste?
Flying less? Started buying carbon offsets?
Shopping secondhand? Joined Buy Nothing?

We know that some personal choices pack the most punch- our diet, our travel, and our consumption all have clear links to the environment. Rather than looking for perfection in any of these categories, how can you measure your progress?

Sit down and think back to where you were a year ago. Start a list of the positive changes you have made. Think forward to your next year- what would you like to accomplish in the next year? Use these three categories- Diet, Travel, and Consumer Habits to break it down even more.

No one can really see if you are making progress but you, because we all start in our own spot and move forward with our own abilities and priorities. Every inch gained absolutely matters. And it's good you have more growing to do. If we were all doing our best and the planet was in this state, we would really be fucked.

4. Is the world better off because I am in it? (Hint: Yes, it is)

My dream is that when I die, my tombstone can say the world was a teeny, tiny bit better because I was in it. The older I get, the higher a bar I realize this is. Most of us aren't going to be Greta, and that is ok, but we can ask ourselves from time to time if we are making our world a better place. It's a good way to stay motivated and to keep moving.

But I want you to know that the world is better off with you in it, with you trying, and with you caring. I am so glad you are here.

Doing something is always better than letting hopelessness take over and doing nothing. The trick is to feel good about what we are doing now and let that momentum push us to try harder, speak up louder, and just keep going. 

You are enough, and we all have work to do.

The state of our planet is a big complicated problem, and it will take a big complicated solution. To really save our planet and the biodiversity on it, we need what everyone has to give. So whatever you have to give matters, and it adds up when placed next to the person next to you. 

Did I mention I am so glad you care about this at all? Keep caring, keep making progress, and know that I am so grateful to be fighting for this planet next to you. Neither of us have to be perfect to make a huge difference.

Yep, We are All Hypocrites; You Don't Have to be Perfect to Help Save the Planet

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