My Changing Perspective on Environmentalism

In my youth and early adulthood, I gave very little concern to the environment. I didn't trouble myself over people who littered, or my excessive consumption of single use plastic. I didn't worry about what pesticides did to the ecosystem. I didn't care. 

Even in high school and on college campuses, when the young people were such staunch advocates of a pro-environmentally friendly agenda, I wasn't swayed. These people also had very liberal economic ideas that I disagreed with, and truthfully, I worried that by aligning myself with their environmental views I'd be perceived as being another young liberal college student, when in fact in my early adulthood I was staunchly conservative.

Perhaps I should be ashamed of my slow progress toward a more enlightened view on the environment, but there is no shame in telling the truthful story about progress. I was ignorant about where I stood as a young person, due in some part to the manipulative messaging by the media and other propagandists. I felt very strongly that a pro-environmental approach was at odds with my support of robust economic growth. I also felt that all of the solutions being presented were geared at more government regulation, to which I am opposed. So I felt like my personal political views were at odds with the environmental movement.

Progress is usually a journey and I am still on that journey and I have a long way to go; however, I have made great strides mentally in being more mindful of my impact on the environment. In many ways, my more proactive stance on the environment has gone hand in hand with my goal to live a more natural and healthy lifestyle at home. For example, I got rid of my microwave (I didn't throw it in the trash, I sold it to someone to be reused). This not only prevents me from eating cheap, nutrition free microwaved foods, but it also reduces my use of the packaging of those foods.  I have actually started trying to eat my vegetables raw more often, which saves on the energy use to cook them and the containers to store leftovers.

While I am still very much addicted to bottled water, I am keenly aware that I need to move to a more sustainable way of drinking my water. However, I have stopped using plastic straws in my home as a positive step. I have stainless steel straws that work even better, in my opinion.

I read and research about the cost of recycling, the impact of what the government is doing versus what private organizations could do when permitted to find alternative solutions.  The core of me has not changed: I do not believe the government is the answer to the problems that we face within the environment. I think organizations have far more creative and innovative ways to solve the problem, and popular brands that do things like encourage paper bags instead of plastic or remove straws - all without alienating their client base - do far more than the government hypocrisy about what we should be doing (and not setting that example themselves).

One of the most persuasive arguments to shift my thinking about sustainable environmental practices came from a combination of my libertarian views and some classes I took in graduate school on business ethics. I believe firmly in individual rights and the role we play in voting with our dollars, supporting businesses and organizations that embrace policies that we support as individual people. I began to read case studies of the economic impact to organizations who were discovered to have dismal records on sustainability and environmental care. I began making the connection that private organizations have far more at stake in creating sustainable ways of doing things than the government does, because when organizations fail to meet people's expectations they move their dollars elsewhere. Government doesn't have this mandate: they can dictate to us and we pay our taxes while they fly in their private jets to promote environmental awareness.

I had to get past the government hypocrisy and discover what my own views really are and recognize what is within my own scope to affect change. I believe we are stewards of this world, and from an economic perspective, wasting or damaging our resources is at odds with growth. I make small, mindful decisions each day about how I spend my money and what businesses I support, and in doing this I have found that living a natural, environmentally friendly life is very much in line with my libertarian (and even formerly conservative) viewpoint. 

I have come a long way on this in a few years and I look forward to seeing what changes and accommodations I make over the coming years. I admire people like Richard Branson very much, who uses his spotlight to shine a light on this issue in a way that is not at all hypocritical or accusative, but hopeful and incremental.

Some small changes I have made in recent years:
  • nearly all my bills are paperless
  • I have migrated to e-books almost entirely
  • I buy most of my clothes second hand (giving them a second life!)
  • I buy and use sustainable products, eliminating plastic loofahs, plastic straws, plastic food storage containers, etc
  • I have integrated (though not totally replaced) my cleaning supplies with natural cleaners that are easier on the environment
  • I try to find at least one second use for each "single use" package material I have
  • I research and support organizations that make mindful economic and environmental choices
  • I switched my mindset to understanding that economic growth is absolutely linked to environmental health, we must be sustainable (it is ethical and savvy)