Thursday, 28 June 2012

I'm an Environmentalist.

This is not a rant. I am writing on behalf of the hundreds who call themselves students of Environmental Studies; environmentalists, if you will. 

You see, we’ve been placed into a box – like many other folks pursuing certain academic things – and that box can be very limiting in terms of image and portrayal of this discipline, leading to more than a few prejudgements from those on the outside. I want to set the record straight. Right here, right now. There’s probably a lot of inaccuracies or - and I hate to use this word - ‘labels’ attached to us Environmental Studies students, but this is just a short list of the ideas other people have had about me during my four years in university. 

1)    I’m a hippy

Nothing against hippies, I’m just not one. On the contrary, identifying yourself as a ‘hippy’ is nothing to be ashamed about; hippies have pulled the human rights wagon further than most groups. At the height of the American Counterculture Movement during the 1960’s, these folks worked on having an incredibly positive impact in many places. If it weren’t for the ‘hippies’,  LGBTQ Rights, freedom of speech, anti-war campaigns and environmentalism wouldn’t be close to what we know and have today. 

And I wasn’t part of any of that. So please, stop calling me a hippie, and read a history book, or better yet watch Zeitgeist

2)    I am solely responsible for saving the world 

There’s a really scary word used by big businesses called externalities. It refers to the residual aspects of industry; the side effects of mining, lumber exports, building houses, global banking, etc. and, you probably guessed it, these externalities really mess things up. The damage caused by whatever means to create a product are often ignored because some people think that other interest groups will just take care of it.
According to this logic, I am part of this ‘other group’, solely because I will graduate in a year with a degree that flashes ‘here they come to save the dayyyyyyy!’ In rides the environmentalists on golden steeds, ready to fight for justice and make everything right again. It’s this kind of image that perpetuates thoughts like ‘somebody else will take care of this’ or rebuttals like ‘isn’t there people advocating for that already??’

Sometimes we ride in on golden crocodiles, too.
Take a good look back into history. The only time anything big and important ever got done, such as significant legislation enacted, human rights extended, wars ended, etc, it was because a multitude of people from a multitude of backgrounds came together over some commonality. Environmental Studies isn’t trying to breed a group of distinct individuals who will save the world from inevitable destruction, it is trying to create people who will bring more people together. So stop relying on me to fix everything. 

3)    I am going to work for Greenpeace/PITA

As I near the end of my time as an undergraduate student in university, I enter the realm of expectation I think all graduates-to-be transition into (whether we like it or not). It’s a period of your life when the apparent immaturity and carelessness of student life begins to fade and the adult you forms….As others may see it. Soon, a relentlessly annoying golden question will begin to crawl its way into your life: ‘So, what are you going to do with your (blank) degree after graduating?’

'Lets throw our hats to show how hopelessly unidirectional our lives are!'
I get it. Most people mean no harm with this question; it’s motivated by an unconscious desire to categorize and place you into a nice sounding career and/or lifestyle. You’ve just spent thousands of dollars and four years on a piece of paper, now do something with it. But it’s not that easy, and the answer, these days, won’t seem quite as sexy. In fact, there might not be an answer at all.

A large majority of my peers who have, or are about to, graduate university don’t have a very straightforward post-degree plan. Or if they do, it does not involve finding a permanent job and settling down. Contrary to this trend, I have literally had conversations with other people (sometimes other students) who have assumed I will end up working for Greenpeace when I graduate. Again, it’s that urge to find a poster child for every discipline, and then automatically tag the student to it. That way you won’t have to put any thought into the answer. Business majors have Pfizer, English majors will be teachers, and Fine Arts majors will be jobless (okay, maybe that last one is a tad bit accurate….). 

4)    I practice (inset random generic spiritual thing here)

Yoga. Meditation. Reiki. Tai Chi. Buddhism. Hoola Hooping. 

Whether I’ve practiced these things or not, it’s a bit unfair for one to assume that all Environmental Studies students know everything there is to know about vegetarianism or Jainism. It’s not like we synthesize every one of these activities by osmosis and default into Ghandi. I don’t even think I’d particularly like that. 

5)    I’m going to make you feel bad for eating that chicken. 

There is one thing I can say for sure about Environmental Studies students (at least the one’s at York), and that is there is much higher than average percentage of vegetarians in the program (I being one of them). It could be that a lot of the ideals we study foster this sense of stewardship, but then again it also gets challenged by many in our discipline at the same time. 

There’s this idea largely held by non-vegetarians that us herbivores make it our life mission to publicly shame others while they consume meat. What becomes misunderstood is that our dietary restrictions are for most of us veggies (and I hope I speak the truth on this) a personal choice. Meaning, it has nothing to do with your choices for eating meat. Meaning, you don’t have to ask us if we’re offended before you eat that leg of chicken. It’s okay, you can still be my friend.

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