A Professional Environmentalist

Who is an Environmentalist?IM000326

No, “environmentalist” is NOT a “dirty” word other than many of us who call ourselves environmentalists may be happiest digging our hands in the dirt. It’s a profession, a hobby, a life style that is deeply embedded in community building in the most inclusive way.

“I am not a prophet. I am not a messiah.
I am like a small bird that has left a small boat to deliver an important message”. – Terry Tempest Williams, Author

Defining an Environmentalist

An environmentalist is an individual who advocates for the natural world when the nature-culture dichotomy is apparent. This person urges others to see human connections to the natural world, to see how humans affect the web of life.  An environmentalist sees the connection between inner and outer body health, the connection between the human body and the global body, i.e. the environment. This individual thinks beyond the self in making daily decisions and forming life-affirming habits. “Is this good for me? What impact am I making on the environment? What actions can I take to create healthier ways of living with the environment?”

An environmentalist may utilize many skills of persuasion to convince the populace of her/his convictions. This individual may teach awareness about the outside world, research human induced impacts upon an ecosystem or lobby on its behalf. An environmentalist may even guard against those who seek to harm a particular species other than her/his own by physically intervening on the behalf of wildlife. This person can be someone who puts his/her life on the line for trees; she may be part of the Chipco movement clinging to a banj tree in the Himalayas, or he may be someone who lives in a tree in Oregon’s WillametteNational Forest. Environmentalists can be canvassers for the Sierra Club or someone who pulls invasive species off a beach in California. She may rescue whales from whaling ships or he may lead owl prowls at a local nature center. She may be a professional lobbyist in the state’s capital or a nature writer working at home. This person may be anyone; what defines her or him as an environmentalist, more than their job or profession, is their passion, their commitment to preserving the integrity of global citizenship.

With the understanding that we all ~ flora and fauna alike ~ are citizens of earth, environmentalists act out as spokespersons and defenders of individuals, of species, of habitats, who do not have the power to defend themselves. Whether speaking out against the injustices of environmental racism in a community who has a disproportionate amount of toxins in their bodies due to illegal dumping, or monitoring endangered puritan tiger beetle populations along the Connecticut River, an environmentalist is a person of action; committed to solving self-prescribed tasks.
Though an environmentalist may or may not have scientific figures to back up an argument against the slaughter of large predators, or the meaning behind the decline of neo-tropical songbirds, or an account of the relationship between the hole in the ozone layer and the warming of the planet; s/he will nonetheless speak out where there is a perceived injustice. More than attempting to “fix” the planet and make it “all better”, an environmentalist is someone who is attempting to change his or her own destructive habits and the destructive habits of other humans.  As an environmentalist reads about or witnesses actions perceived to be detrimental to the environment, s/he sees the need for human intervention on behalf of the Earth. Regardless of whether s/he believes there is a nature-culture dichotomy, this person feels that humans can be a disruptive force on the planet. As this person recognizes human actions that harm the web of life, s/he wants to correct those actions or heal those that have been affected by those actions.

Being an EnvironmentalistDSC01567

“I think a part of being an environmentalist is having grief over the way we have distanced ourselves mentally and physically from the forces that are beyond our control here on this planet. Then because of this we act out of our grief to do something about it, which may or may not be sustainable actions, depending on how much grief we feel around it, and how deeply we are immersed in it while we act.” – Walker Korby, Environmental Educator

More than winning the political argument, a person who labels himself or herself as an environmentalist needs to live a life of integrity. Not taking the moral high ground, but honestly living as sustainably as s/he is able. And though there may be much grief or anger when looking out upon human impacts on the world, an environmentalist will hopefully also see the love and beauty in the world and their connection to it.

“…remember that the earth is alive, and that all creatures deserve equal love and respect. Feelings of respect lead to gratitude; a grateful heart enables us to be ever more humbly in sympathy with other creatures. Humility allows us to see life in proper proportions, understanding that our human desires should be tempered with willing to defer to the needs of other living things.” – Joseph Cornell, Author

If a person can keep in mind that all of life longs for itself; that life competes, cooperates, lives, loves, and dies so that life can continue, then as an environmentalist, this person can then move forward with an open heart to do her or his work. This individual will then not cave into his or her grief about the state of the environment but remember that what is important here, is the joy received by making a positive difference in another’s life, whether that be a fellow human, a Butternut tree, a Fowler’s toad, or an Atlantic salmon.

Love, this deep feeling of fondness or devotion, is not merely a human concept. Love is an agreement between organisms to share or provide something of themselves. If an organism is devoted to its own life then it will not destroy the tapestry that it depends on to live. It will take what it needs and give back its whole life at the end of the journey.

“Love in its purest sense is not based upon what you get from the relationship,
but on what the relationship allows you to give.”  – Judith Lasater, Author

IM001565If you as a human can honor that agreement in all that you do; feel it in the air you breathe, knowing it’s the trees who provide the oxygen, you who provide the carbon dioxide, then you can understand the love that is the world. And when you experience this love you will not just act on your own behalf, but the on the behalf of the relationships that help sustain you and the relationships that sustain your relationships. This feeling of devotion will expand in ever greater ripples and you will see yourself as part of the Earth and you will act to the best of your ability in accordance with the cycles and processes of Earth. It is at this point the label of “environmentalist” becomes secondary; no longer are your actions focused on mending what other humans do to the environment but on building relationships with the environment. By creating healthy connections between yourself, your community, and the environment that will affirm the cycles of life you act as a model in creating a home that not just survives, but thrives. Rejoice in the fact that you too are a part of the world.

Cornell, Joseph, Listening to Nature: How to Deepen You Awareness of Nature, p. 65, Dawn Publications, Nevada City, 1987.
Korby, Walker, email reply to survey question “who is an environmentalist?”, 11/00.
Lasater, Judith, Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, p. 142, Rodmell Press, Berkeley, 2000.
Williams, Terry Tempest, An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field, p. 105, Vintage Books, New York, 1994.

About this Article
This article is based on a paper from Environmental History & Philosophy, a course taught at Antioch New England Graduate School, Keene, N.H. in Fall 2000.

How to be a Sustainable Professional

by Arianna Alexsandra Grindrod

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

What does it take for you to be sustain-able? To be response-able; able to respond with integrity no matter the situation? There are many things that tug at our attention.  In this culture of more, bigger, better, faster we are also told, reduce, reuse, recycle. If you are going to be sustain-able you need to learn “first things first”. Identify what is most important in your life and focus your efforts on the best goals that will make you most effective in your professional and personal life. Whatever your ruts, the places in which you get stuck, you need to decide to pause, reflect, and consider how you want to respond.  You need to decide that preparation, prevention, values clarification, planning, true “re-creation”; activities that empower, activities that broadens your mind and increase your skills, activities and actions that invest in your relationships are vital activities to invest your time in. Increasing time here increases your ability to do not just the good thing, but the best thing for a given situation.

The following “Values Clarification Merry-go-Round” activity was quite popular at my Sustain-Able workshop at the 2010 annual conference of the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society. I invite you the reader, to take some time with a friend or colleague and share your answers to the following questions. You may also decide to use this as a journal activity.  This values clarification activity will get your juices flowing and allow you, in a playful way, to access what is truly important in your life.

  • Tell me about one of the roles you have in your professional life and how it affects other roles in your professional and personal life?
  • Describe your work environment as a habitat. What is the landscape or terrain? What are the relationship types and how do they fit together? (Parasitism, mutualism, etc)
  • Tell me about a habit you wish you could break. Have you tried? And if so do you have an idea of what is blocking you from reforming this habit or breaking it all together and replacing it which a healthier pattern?
  • Speak to the statement – “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” How does that statement make you feel? Does it resonate or not? Is it something to live by, if so do you?
  • What do you see as the confluences of environmental sustainability, organizational sustainability, and personal sustainability in your life?
  • If you could any animal besides a human, what would you be and why? What qualities do you see that animal possessing? As a human, could you see yourself with those qualities? How might they play out in your life?
  • Talk to me about your professional life from the lens of you as the hero.
  • Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Why or why not? What does being an environmentalist involve? What are the characteristics of an environmentalist?
  • Talk to me about your personal life from the lens of a comedy. If you feel your life has been a tragedy, how could you tell it from the comedy perspective?
  • Tell me about something you do to invest in an important relationship to you? How do you demonstrate the worth of this relationship to the other person?
  • Tell me something you do to increase proficiency in a skill you are passionate about?
  • Tell me one true value you hold dear and why.
  • Does anyone remember MacGyver? MacGyver could solve a major crisis with a gum wrapper and some household cleaning agent. Pretend you are MacGyver. What crisis would you solve and how could you solve it with limited resources and time? You are welcome to use any crisis situations you have experienced in your own life.
  • Tell me what you believe gives your life meaning?
  • What do you want to do/be when you “grow up”?
  • What is one thing you are truly passionate about? Do you sate this passion? In what ways?

What did you learn about yourself during this activity? Can you find where the confluences of environmental sustainability and your professional and personal sustainability meet in your life? This is the starting place where you can begin to form your own personal mission statement.  This statement you can return again and again, like a mantra to remind you of your core values and how you will live them.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  – Stephen Covey

It is easy to become entrenched in the day-to-day and to forget about why we started on our various paths to emulate and model sustainable living in our work and personal life. We can allow ourselves to forget about what inspired us and focus on what frightens us. At these times it is crucial to return to that well of inspiration to replenish and rejuvenate. As author and educator David Orr states, “hope is an imperative” and without it we are lost. So take the time to replenish your well; retain those playful parts of yourself, those parts that can remember how to solve a problem with excitement and hope. We are each “MacGyvers” with our little upbeat, heroic theme songs running around in our heads as we greet each new day with renewed enthusiasm.  (What’s my theme song, you ask? It’s the first part of the Indiana Jones theme song.)

“We are meant to live as rivers – flowing creative energy into the expression of life, meandering as opportunities arise, branching when conditions allow, leaving behind the rich fruits of our labors as gifts to others.” – Bradford Glass

Resources on the path to the confluences of sustainability:

  • First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill © 1994
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey © 1989
  • “Purposeful Wanderings” by Bradford Glass, http://www.roadnottaken.com/
  • The Right Questions by Debbie Ford, © 2003
  • Ask and It is Given by Jerry and Ester Hicks, © 2004
  • The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, © 2008, http://transitionculture.org/
  • For more information on building local resiliency and sustainability visit: http://transitionmassachusetts.ning.com/