1. It’s not about being the perfect environmentalist.
It can be easy after learning about the urgent threats to our environment to want to do something drastic. To radically alter your lifestyle and to challenge others to do the same. These changes are good, but they can also very easily slip into the snares of perfectionism and legalism.
Perfectionism is the unhealthy desire to make no mistakes, often allowing that desire to inhibit any action at all. It makes it more likely for guilt and shame to become part of the equation. Which in the long run is very ineffective at creating long term behavioral change.
Legalism looks similar, but is often directed outwards. It doesn’t take too long to find an online forum or some other setting where people are fiercely debating each other over the environmental impacts of their actions. Or worse, participants shaming each other for not "walking-the-walk" of a planet-friendly lifestyle.
The reality is that not all people have an equal opportunity to make the same lifestyle choices as each other. Purchasing higher quality, better farmed groceries is a good idea, but it can be cost prohibitive. Reducing the use of straws could help decrease plastic pollution, but people with some disabilities may find this a much bigger challenge. In reality, some of these environmental trends can get wrapped in virtue signaling and deter lasting lifestyle commitments on a personal level.
And at the end of the day, it is impossible to have zero environmental impact. Someone’s mere presence has been proven to have an impact on their immediate environment, even if they do nothing. This is true at a macro level too. The key is to see a planet friendly lifestyle as less of a rigid obligation and more as an opportunity to serve others.
2. It’s not just about me.
That’s why it’s helpful to remember who the beneficiaries of an environmentally friendly lifestyle usually end up being.
The world’s most vulnerable communities are the ones most profoundly impacted by their environment. This means low-income communities. This means those located in remote and rural locations, and this means those in underdeveloped or exploited countries.
“When it comes to something like climate change,” says Lucy McCray, “it will be the poor who feel the effects of that first.”
On the other hand, they have the most to gain from a healthy and thriving environment. It will allow for them to produce more food to feed their families. They can then sell surplus crops and agricultural products for additional income, thus allowing them to pursue business, education, and further opportunities. People will live healthier lives.
And other beneficiaries are yet to come. A healthy planet and a thriving ecosystem goes beyond our own lives. Being able to pass on a healthy, viable planet on to future generations is an under-appreciated privilege and opportunity.
3. We have enough for our needs, not our greeds.
Much of what harms the planet comes from desperation and overconsumption. This echoes true at both an individual and macro-level. Our demand for more and more resources at a lower and lower price has meant that the environment has taken on much of the burden.
It truly doesn’t have to be this way. The planet God designed is capable of supporting life and providing for what we need. The moment we start to pursue things that go beyond our needs is the moment things start to get out of hand.
It’s helpful to approach habits and behaviors by asking yourself if you’re pursuing a want or a need. Of course not all desires are bad-- but when we pursue them in excess, it becomes very easy to harm others as a consequence.
Choosing to repair rather than replace, choosing quality over quantity, and choosing simplicity can all help free us from living lives of excess rather than lives of compassion.
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