Questions as an environmentalist

Sam Chapman

This week’s post is about questions.

What is a good environmentalist? More than that, how does one live?

I’ve been pondering recently about what would happen if an ideal warrior were to join the ranks of the Campus Climate Challenge. What would this person be like? Would they have any friends, any family? What would they study: ES or biology or politics? Would there be anything going on in their life other than the fight for the health of the planet?

The more I think about the last question, the more I realize that the answer is no. If I’m conceptualizing the perfect the environmentalist, I’m drawing a person who throws themselves into the action they’re taking, to the exclusion of all else. Is this the ideal: one who looks clear-eyed at the situation and renounces personal attachments because there is not a single one which is not dwarfed by the pain and injustice caused by the corruption of the Earth?

As an environmentalist, and a member of the global 1% whose standard of living outstrips much of the world’s, I often wonder what right I have to have personal troubles. How dare I feel overworked, or depressed about loss, or fearful of a future I sometimes imagine to be bleak, when my home planet is dying? Yet I can’t stop feeling; cannot sacrifice my ego on my superego’s altar. I wonder if, given the chance, I would.

Without going too far into gory details, I recently suffered a loss. It was grief like I’d never felt, a different breed of sorrow. I retreated from my world, losing all motivation to uphold any responsibilities in this sphere of my existence. There were moments in this dissolute period when I wished I could eliminate my feelings, along with everything personal. I could dedicate myself to a cause without considering myself for a second, and become so busy I wouldn’t have time to waste dreaming of a past farther gone from me than Saturn.

Alas, that is never the way it goes. The paradox will always win, and matters of the heart, small as they may be, will forever overtake matters of the world soul. Somehow I pulled through the darkness and came out: tentatively: stronger. Looking back on it, I do not believe personal pain interfered with my environmental mission: quite the contrary.

We in CCC feel pain. We watch our hometowns recede from us, lose loves, suffer failed ambition. I say this makes us stronger.

This week’s post is also about answers.

What does the good environmentalist fight for? For humanity. What is humanity? Humanity is feeling: worry, relief, fear, joy, despair. What is a good environmentalist? One who finds moments where humanity is most passionate, most true, and clamps down on them like a vise. Only when we live the most fully in our personal lives do we realize that we fight for the Earth because our grandchildren deserve the chance to suffer, and weep, and remember, under clear skies and a benign sun.