Friday, February 9, 2018

How I Became Obsessed with the Environment

A couple of days ago, one of my best friends asked how my fascination with environmentalism actually started. Now that makes it sound like it's a story going back a long way, but it actually isn't. I guess it's just a side effect of me having lived abroad on and off for about 3.5 years now that something that has been growing for a while might seem live an overnight change even to my closest friends back home. So I figured this might be a good chance to reflect on this whole venture a bit. 

What does environmentalism even mean? I actually contemplate this often - can I even call myself an environmentalist?

   - one concerned about environmental quality especially of the human environment with respect to the control of pollution (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
   - a person who is interested in or studies the environment and who tries to protect it from being damaged by human activities (Cambridge Dictionary)

For me, it's been a snowball effect where one thing led to another and eventually accumulated into a somewhat coherent set of environmentalist views and habits. Then again, on some days, I'm also completely overwhelmed by the wide range of issues whis field attempts to cover and find the term "environmentalist" pretty ungrateful in itself. How can someone devote themselves to reducing waste, fighting pollution, protecting endangered species and whatnot all at the same time? And if that's impossible, when does one do "enough" to count as an environmentalist? But this is not a scientific paper, so for the sake of simplicity I can agree to label myself an environmentalist and embrace the fact that this is a worldview that unites so many (but not enough!) people whereas being relatively open to all kinds of interpretations, at least when it comes to individual level actions. Hence a disclaimer: what I mean by talking about environment stuff on this blog, concerns mostly what I myself and potentially anyone who reads this, can do to make at least the slightest of difference. Be the change you want to see in the world, or whatever they say, right? It's actually pretty widely agreed that climate change can only be fought through large-scale collective agreement and action only. That's why I think that the effort that a single person can contribute is actually not as pointless and irrelevant as it might seem. 

What I've also realized is that environmentalism is largely a matter of perception. I mainly (at least for now) identify my environmentalism through my personal behaviour and not so much through research (which would be awesome, though) or any sort participation in organized activism. However, I'm also not living a 100% zero waste lifestyle, I'm not vegan (not even vegetarian), I still go on flights... so for some, I'm probably no different than an average person that's not concious about the environment at all. Then again, to others, I am a "total hippie" even without all that because I bike around town, never buy any to-go meals in one-time-use packaging or spam the internet with my environment stuff. 

This is the most tree-hugging picture of me I could find :D

So what did actually happen?

I'm pretty sure I can pinpoint this whole mindset change down to one event - getting a job in a coffee shop. Even though we offer discounts for people that bring their own cup (or don't make them pay extra, to be exact), I still saw the same people come in sometimes multiple times every day to buy their latte-to-go and head over to their offices around the block. And all I could think of were the dozens of the same paper cups (what a shitty term, they're only partly made out of paper and that's the problem) that must be piling up in their office corners?! 

I'm not quite sure what happened, but whatever did, like I said, could best be described by a snowball rolling down a hill. I reevaluated my own consumption habits (and almost drove my boyfriend nuts along the way). We strictly reduced our plastic consumption, started selecting package free fruit and vegetables at the store, refined our recycling and got over the thought that collecting biodegradable waste is too much of a hassle. At the same time we also completely unrelatedly became friends with a vegan couple and were inspired by them to try out more soy and other vegan products. I got more interested in reading about consumption, the way our things are produced and disposed of. The desire to browse H&M or whatever fast fashion store pretty much disappeared. I started to think of long-lasting and better-quality items of clothing that I would want to invest in instead whereas trying to figure out which brand treats their production workers in the least horrible way and would still be at least somewhat affordable for my student budget (still majorly struggling with this one, all advice welcome). I started to educate myself all around through articles, books, youtube, blogs and like-minded people and, I gotta say, it's been a truly eye-opening experience. Seeing plastic being washed up to the shores of countries that have no fault in Western countries sick consumerism... I mean, I was also born on an island with beautiful untouched beaches. And just the thought of going there one day and finding washed up straws and flip flops just makes me shiver. But that's the reality for so many people in other parts of the world and I honestly don't know how someone could NOT care, really. 

I don't want this blog to turn into a zero-waste environmentalist blog, because that's not all I am and I also have other things to share. But I do want to make an effort to incorporate my experiences on this journey into this blog and hope that it might be useful to whoever happens to read.

AND! I would love to hear back from you! Even if this is the only post that you ever read on my blog. Do you ever think about the environment and the impact of your own actions? Feel free to answer in English, Estonian or German. :) 

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