This post is my last of three entries for the World Environment Day blog competition. I am in fifth place as a top ten finalist — every vote counts toward the grand prize of becoming the correspondent for WED2012 in Brazil!
Click here to vote on the official site (the only place voting counts). Thanks to Eat Drink Better and Important Media for their support!
So you’ve decided to become an environmentalist. First, I think it is helpful to know that this label doesn’t have to come with a lot of baggage. I believe it represents a certain mindset or inclination toward feeling compassion for our planet.
This is in contrast to the common misconception that environmentalism only includes those who take extreme action in the name of the environment, though these actions are certainly on the spectrum of environmental engagement.
For many, however, being a good steward of the environment might involve a series of baby steps, working up to a larger goal.
Much like embarking on a vegan lifestyle, where one might first give up red meat, seafood, then dairy and finally eggs, the first step to taking care of the earth begins at a conscious decision to do just that: care.
After that, people who no longer want to remain quiet about their feelings of distaste for pollution, waste or corporate interest can either make a very radical change all at once, as showcased in the documentary and book No Impact Man, or start small, leading up to a big event.
Starting small, like beginning to recycle for the first time, does not mean a newly formed environmentalist is operating in isolation, but is, in fact, part of a global movement.
Within this movement, citizens worldwide are doing their part to reduce our impact on the earth. Even while one may individually create a garden, a compost bin or break out the bicycle, he or she is collectively mobilized with people around the world. In other words, someone always has your back.
This is especially encouraging for people living in areas that don’t focus on eco-friendly issues; it might feel lonely for a while, but just know your efforts are part of a much wider mass of eco-conscious folks.
Making the Leap
So, what can you do to meet others like you? Well, there are a variety of ways to mobilize the environmentally conscious masses. You just have to choose what works for you.
Now that the environment is a pretty common word, over the last decade numerous organizations, nonprofits and collectives have sprung up around the world. Some are nationally (or internationally) focused, and some are meant to engage local activists. Some are large in scale, and some are meant for niche markets.
Regardless, eco-based festivals or conferences are inclusive opportunities bringing widespread groups together to learn new tactics, hear from leaders of the cause and take back messages to effect change at home. Some examples (of literally thousands) are South by Southwest ECO, ECOnference or LouFEST.
For more direct, intentional action, environmentalists may choose to participate in a mass protest or march for a sustainability-related cause.
These initiatives are anything but quiet action, and can be pretty amazing tools to enact change at a governmental level. They can take the form of candlelight vigils, parades, picketing, or even sit-ins, occupations and nonviolent civil disobedience.
A variation of a protest or march are days of action, where citizens are encouraged to do something specific, for a set amount of time, but it is often promoted in advance.
If a more casual, meet-and-greet type setting is more your style, perhaps try participating in a potluck or organized social in your community.
Many local nonprofits and environmental organizations host many types of soirees to increase volunteer engagement. This is a great way to get out of isolation, learn new tips of the trade and meet new, like-minded people, while also having a good time.
For example, a “progressive social” could be a once-a-month meeting at a local pub or restaurant to introduce newbies to the established group members and brainstorm new ideas for engagement.
If you don’t know how to get the word out yourself, consider hosting your own documentary screening.
Many films these days have instructions on their website, directing consumers to digitally screen the movie in their area, especially if there is no existing independent theater. Forks Over Knives and Vegucated are two examples of food-related films that provide a screening service.
You could also scale it down and just project a film at your house.
If you feel teaching is your strength, organize a “teach-in,” which is basically like a more participatory version of a seminar, meant more for direct and immediate action. Teach-ins were very popular during the Vietnam War, but have seen a comeback in social movements like Occupy. (There are also creative variations of teach-ins, like Yoko Ono’s “bed-in.”)
Need to raise funds for a particular cause? Turn any meetup or social gathering into a fundraiser, to simultaneously raise awareness and necessary donations for your environmental action or organization.
Fundraising can be fun, engaging events to bring community members together for a specific cause. Many fundraisers include things like live music, food vendors and representatives from various pockets of a community. Be creative!
If there are no events, protests, marches or activities happening in your area, get involved online!
Sign a petition, follow interesting groups on Twitter or Facebook, engage in online forums, create and view informational videos or take advantage of any of the various forms of new media and social networking to stay informed, get connected and spread the word about environmental issues.
Image Credit: Becky Striepe