What does it take to be an environmental activist (personal opinion)?

Environmental activism

There’s a lot of discussion in the environmental community around the question of being an activist, and what the roles of this “position”. In whatever way people decide to consider who is an environmental activist and who is not, the intention is usually the same: protect the environment in order to achieve a balance between the human-made world and the natural world. Basically, achieve a sustainable way of living to provide a healthy future for next generations. Although the intentions are pretty much the same, the ways to get at these levels are pretty different. It is not like political currents, where there are fights between the different sides. It is more of different approaches and point of views around the same goals. 

So, I want to present my personal opinion on how these different points of views are established if you are an environmental activist. And remember, this is just my opinion and feel free to disagree with me. Also keep in mind that I will not talk about the scale of it, that is, the amount of work you need to do to be considered an environmental activist. It will be just about the concept, based on my personal experiences. And I don’t convince anyone about anything, I just want to present my point of view in order to help others. 


The common image we have about an environmental activist is that person who goes to environmental strikes, in order to protest about problems related to climate change in general. Or that speaks in events, or even in social media. The reason why I don’t consider them as environmental activists is because, during the time of protests, they are doing nothing for the environment. Only speaking up doesn't bring anything good for the environment. It’s just a bunch of conversation that doesn't take action into account. The word “activist” should be about the sustainable actions you are doing, not the amount or words you speak. So, in my opinion, environmental activists are people who act in face of problems, not just speak. And it doesn't matter if you are cleaning a beach or planting some trees, because the “what” is not the point here. The point is to do something, so pretty much everything that aligns with sustainability and nature conservation can count as action. But, I don’t include protests into action. 


I know that the main goal of protests is to call people to join the action, and this might happen a lot. But, I don’t agree with the way they do so. They have an objective of scaring people by presenting the “cruel truth” about our current damage to the environment. They attack almost everyone, taking a political side in a fight. They want to shame politicians about their disregard for the environmental agenda. They want to attack farms and industries about their harming methods. They want to criticize civil society about its lack of consciousness around the topic. But, that’s not the most effective way to change our current world. I’m not saying that I agree with what politicians, farmers, industries and the general population do (and not do) for the environment. In fact, I do have a lot of claims about them and think that the vast majority of environmental issues come from these people. But, I also don’t think that attacking is the right way to convince them in regards to sustainability. 


Using anger and fury towards this topic just causes more conflicts, not awareness. Fighting for the environment is not what we should have been doing. We need to protect and restore nature, not fight. Fight always presupposes there are two sides, but there shouldn't be such a thing because we need everyone in the same direction if we want to improve our lives on this planet. It is just one side, and is the side of survival. Taking care of the environment is not a political act, it is an act of survival. To achieve our environmental goals we need to bring everyone to the same table, willing to do what we need to do. For that to happen I believe we should rely on appreciation and not on rage. 


Appreciation of the beautiful things that nature created and continue to create. Appreciation for our food, water and atmosphere that come from nature and gives us the ways to live on this planet. Appreciation for a single flower or a whole forest, recognizing its importance to us. It's more than just a carbon-capture tool, it’s a whole living creature that sustains us. If we were able to appreciate nature in the first place, we will be able to pass forward this knowledge and show other people the greatness of nature and why it has to be secured. The way you convince politicians, farmers, industries and civil society is by showing them how important nature is to us in a way that highlights the beauty of the natural world, not the environmental problems. To do so, you need to talk to them to gather everyone on a topic. Sustainable infrastructure plans for a factory, agroforests for farmers, mobility solutions to urban population, etc. are also great ways to convince these groups. Oh, and if they don’t want to talk or don’t want to change their views? I didn’t say it would be easy. You need to continue, without giving up, until you find someone that is willing to help you, then you find another person, then another person and this goes on and on. There are people out there that want to help you through the sense of appreciation. And I believe that these people exist even in the most hated groups, like farmers and industries. 


To give you an example on what I’ve been writing about, I will share some of a project that exists here in Brazil. The free translation is "Jaguar Institute", a tribute to an animal that is a symbol of Brazilian fauna and which has some relatives throughout the Americas, such as the cougar in North America. It's a feline that looks like a leopard or cheetah (in some ways, it also looks like a snow leopard or a lynx). Search on the internet for Brazilian jaguar and you’ll see it. This institute preserves the local fauna of Cerrado (brazilian vegetation), especially jaguars, and to do that they need to engage all the people of the region. So, they build partnerships with local farmers and political figures (the founder said that the biggest partners of the institute are actually the farmers that want to preserve the area and the animals). Thus they can achieve their goals of preserving endangered species, and become a national reference in preservation. Through what? Through the positive convincement, by showing their appreciation of nature. 


The intention of this article is not to say that the people that are doing protests are wrong. It’s just my opinion that they could be doing something more practical and based on the actual action. And, as I said before, I’m not protecting those groups (politicians, farmers, industries and civil society). I know they are the major contributors to environmental problems. 


But, let's say you participate in protests and also take practical actions in your community. Awesome! You are on the best track possible. The only thing you could do, if you want to, is to try to change your speeches. But, how? Try to engage your parents, relatives, friends, peers, anyone in a positive conversation about the things that nature does for us. I’m sure they will listen and, gradually, come closer to help your efforts around protecting the environment. Now, imagine if the people that attack on social media, or protests, or any other communication channel use their voice to highlight the beauty of nature. They would have a giant platform to create a community that acts, not just talk. And they could use it to solve whatever issue they want to.  


In conclusion, I think that what defines an environmental activist is someone who tackles environmental problems by getting a lot of people together in a common line that enhances nature and creates a positive community, willing to take practical actions. There's no need to attack anyone or be angry with something. This doesn’t bring anything useful for anyone, and even less for the environment. It's the famous quote: “the activist is not the person who says the river is dirty. The activist is the person who cleans up the river”


As final thoughts, I just want to mention that this is my own opinion, based on my own life experiences, and should not be treated as a statement. And I’m not trying to convince anyone about my ideas, I just want to share them with the world. I do that because I want to inspire others to be happy and preserve the environment at the same time. Whatever you choose to do, I wish you all the best with your efforts.