Why do people care about the environment? Why is the environmental movement such a passionate and persistent one?
I’ve been wondering what draws me to it, why the desire to live sustainably has become central to who I am.
A few reasons come to mind.
I think people like having a cause to fight for. It gives us purpose in life. To many, environmentalism feels like a meaningful and worthy cause.
And if not a cause, at least it gives us something to complain about. Loudly deploring the acts of governments and corporations who damage our environment is a cathartic retreat.
Or maybe it’s the parental concern for future generations. The thought of creating a harsh world for our children and grandchildren is a common catalyst for action.
It could come from a sense of fairness or guilt. Environmental issues disproportionately affect poorer countries who, in turn, carry less blame. Living sustainably can seem like a road to redemption for privileged people. A small way of redressing injustice.
Environmentalism is also deeply interconnected with other popular movements, such as animal rights, human rights, anti-war, anti-globalisation, indigenous rights, anti-racism, and feminism. Religions also preach some level of respect or care for one’s environment. Politics can’t even escape the environment, no matter how hard it tries. Cultural waves like free love, veganism and minimalism all have roots in environmentalism. It’s impossible to ignore.
And it just makes sense too. Survival as a species depends on sustainability. Although this survival instinct has been distorted by the delusion that we’re separate from nature, it still remains.
Nah. I don’t think any of these reasons get to the bottom of it. They aren’t the essence of environmentalism.
I think love is the essence. This may sound a tad airy-fairy so bear with me.
Naomi Klein once pointed out that many movements are “pickled in anti… for understandable reasons.” They come from a position of opposition and anger. But the environmental movement is about “communities falling more deeply in love with their place.” It may involve resistance at times, but love is the foundation and driving force.
She cites a group of indigenous communities - collectively known as Standing Rock - who are opposing a new oil pipeline in Dakota because it threatens their only source of drinking water. They explained to her, “We are not protesters. We are protectors. We are protecting the living systems that protect all of life.”
Our planet. The animals we share it with. The oceans that water it and the forests that help it breathe. The cities we’ve built and the countryside we cherish. The people around us. We are all inextricably linked and interdependent.
This unbreakable bond with “our place” breeds love. I think that’s why we want to protect it.