On a cold December day, I was walking down Commonwealth Avenue after a long day of classes, when I stumbled upon a canvasser who looked as if she had been transformed into an icicle. Out of pity, I approached her. However, the moment I entered her captivating gravitational force, she began to fill my brain with mindless chatter about how the $10 that I intended to buy Oreos with could help protect ancient forests, save the whales and stop climate change. The woman proceeded to throw grass and dirt at me and then transformed me into a tree.
Well, the last part didn’t actually happen, but it sure felt like it. It was as if all of the carbon dioxide emissions that I’ve produced in my entire life were suffocating me. I view myself as an environmentalist, but this women’s method just seemed absolutely contradictory to what environmentalism is all about.
Last week, I was reading an article on Salon.com entitled “Study: Everyone hates environmentalists and feminists” and I was thrown off guard. You mean, people hate me? Rewind. There must be more to this story. People don’t hate environmentalists. They just hate the downright assertive manner in which environmentalists parade their opinions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my mind filled with leaves and propaganda against my will. The problem with environmentalists is that they aren’t taken seriously because they are perceived as tree-hugging hippies, and this needs to change now.
Let me start by saying I’m not here to transform you into a tree and to print my column on you. Saving the earth is a good thing, and the people that take part in the initiative have good intentions. However, the way that certain people go about showing their support is completely outrageous.
If being an environmentalist entails that you must force your cause upon others and embarrass yourself with ridiculous protests that end in arrests, then I don’t want to be one. There has been so much negative publicity regarding aggressive environmentalists, and unfortunately, this is what society sees, so this is how they are perceived in the eyes of the public.
The environmentalists that you don’t see are hidden behind words, speak their mind among friends, form small panels or arrange diplomatic meetings with large corporations and explain their standpoint in a civil manner. I suppose you could call them silent but deadly.
Of course, they might not be perceived to be as vocal as the aggressive activist approach, but it is definitely more persuasive. There is nothing wrong with advocacy, but once you make a person feel that his or her way of life is incorrect, that’s when you lose supporters.
It makes sense that a tree wouldn’t fall and crush you if you didn’t do everything in your power to save it, so why people do this to their fellow citizens? Not helping the environment isn’t criminal and forcing people to help out just defeats the purpose. If activists were nonabrasive, they could make more of a difference.
So where does this leave us? People hate environmentalists, so what can we do to change this?
It’s obvious that the term “environmentalist” needs to be renovated. I want the world to see that helping out Mother Nature isn’t just something that hippies do. People should want to help the environment without someone yelling at them to do so, and they definitely don’t want to be tied up in politically affiliated mumbo-jumbo.
I took an American Environmental History class taught by one of the most incredible and influential professors that I’ve ever had. With his “peace, love and happiness” attitude, he taught my class that our voice could make a difference. He didn’t force his environmental opinions on us. He let us formulate our own, and I learned what it truly meant to forge a suitable relationship between people and learning from past and present environmental mistakes.
This is where I developed a genuine love for the environment. I always appreciated my surroundings, but this is when I truly realized that our planet is worth saving.
This is what it comes down to. Education is what the public needs — not scolding. Once a pleasant, approachable educator teaches the public, people will be able to relate to environmental issues instead of being introduced to them in a bizarre manner.
So until we decide how we want society to view environmentalists, lets have the trees do all the talking.
Jennifer Ruth is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying environmental analysis and policy. She can be reached email@example.com.