From Environmentalist To ‘Sustainabilist’

Most thinking people care about the air we breathe, the safety and quality of the food we eat and the water we drink. Living healthy lives is a common desire. Yet those who wish to have a healthy and sustainable planet–one that provides all people and organisms with clean air, water and food—are called (evil) ‘environmentalists’.

Because environmentalists are often accused of being against ‘the economy’ the title has become a similar pejorative connotation to the word ‘communist’.

While both communists and environmentalists (in theory) are concerned about our collective well-being, communists have sadly not shown much leadership for the welfare of our planetary home.

One would think that because some people are able to think beyond themselves in a long-term way, they would be celebrated! Instead, the detractors, fearfully reacting from a place of self interest and personal finance, consider such to be dangerous—deserving to be ignored and even shouted down. Environmentalists are even now being called ‘anti-Canadian’.

The truth is that a healthy, abundant planet is absolutely essential in order to have robust economies. The ‘sustainability’ of economies is dependent on the ‘sustainability’ of our planet. As Amory Lovins and Paul Ehrlich have poignantly stated, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ecology.” All of us, including pro-economy individualists, benefit.

So, apart from an uninformed fear that protecting the planet will result in a destruction of the economy, why the huge angst against so-called ‘environmentalists?’

Because those of us who are concerned about our planet are also often motivated by fear.

Fear is an understandable reaction considering how poorly our planet is faring, with ecological and economic futures looking, well, awful. Fear is normal when danger looms.

The trouble is, that by responding out of fear, we invite the very thing that is feared. So environmentalists end up doing things that encourage animosity, backlash, counter fear, and worse.

I know it’s strange, but even though I am frequently called an environmentalist, I sometimes feel quite repelled by other ‘greenies’. I even distance myself from some of them. (As a Christian I feel the same way about some who identify themselves as ‘Christians’, likely because I sense a lack of respect in both cases.)

If we truly love our planet, and all of its creatures (including the two-legged sort), then how can we feel our fear and grieve what is being done to the planet, while simultaneously showing love and respect for all? Until we adequately answer this question, we can expect little respect or appreciation in return.

If we respond out of love instead of fear (which ancient wisdom identifies as being opposites) then we will rise above the fear and rhetoric being thrown at us ‘sustainabilists.’ To be effective, we will need to use methods that are not easily countered, such as offering viable solutions, being hopeful, being loving (which is not the same thing as being ‘nice’), being respectful, strategic and ultimately, persuasive.

When fearful people are lovingly and powerfully shown a freer, more compassionate, more hopeful future, we ‘sustainabilists’ may find ourselves being embraced more often. Yeah!

Ian Gartshore is a specialist in both sustainability and relationships.