I’ve received this question many a time with different wordings. But it all boils down to this: Why would anyone ever do anything for the environment when we are doomed anyway? Why would we fight and battle to improve our living when these battles are bound to fail?
I guess it’s one of the biggest “Whys” I have to deal with right now. Since my arguments are so unordered, I decided to make a list. That’s the way I solve problems: With lists and sketches. One pen stroke at a time.
- I receive meaning from environmental activism. I struggle right now to find purpose in my life and I question my every decision. I write fancy diagrams with my values in them but then I rip the paper in pieces and sit in my room, my feet dangling from my bed. In the end, the most important one of my goals is to make the planet a better place in my lifetime. Since I’m learning that here in Uppsala, I seem to live in the right city.
- When you push boundaries, you move them. A family member told me: “You will always end up feeling depressed because at many points, you won’t change anything.” I will fail and then fail again. But today, on one of my more hopeful days, I say: If you keep pushing the walls of your world a little at a time, they will move. If you throw yourself against them with all force, they will move farther than if you just tap your finger against them. And if you get many people around to throw themselves against the borders, they fall. Like they did in my hometown Berlin in 1989.
- Every profession depresses you if you look from a certain angle. You can work in a bank and give loans to small business owners in order to decrease inequality. You fail because of how economics work. You might treat patients with cancer. You see some of them recover through your help and you see many of them die. Or like me, you might work as an environmentalist who wants to make society more equal, more fair and more sustainable. And you fail just like everyone else. But still, all of us who want to have a positive impact on the world sometimes do. We should fight for these moments of success.
- University exhausted me this week and every evening I sat down and re-watched one of the Harry Potter films. So here’s a lesson from Dumbledore: “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” It’s difficult to put yourself out there, to struggle, to change. But I feel working in sustainability is the right thing to do. I listen, I read, I learn. From everyone and everything I can find. I’m not at the front line of environmentalism. I do not occupy trees to save forests, I do not chain myself to train rails to prevent nuclear waste movements. In my small world, though, I already cause change. And I will just keep going.
- With privilege comes responsibility. I am a white, able-bodied woman with the means and the support system to do a masters programme abroad. I have a family who has my back and who cheers on my every step. I have many privileges that I’m eternally grateful for. Because of the way media (and the world in general) work, my voice will more likely be heard. That’s why I feel a responsibility to do something meaningful with the power I have. I want to use it to promote people who are marginalised and ignored in society. I want to give people a voice who are suffering from the horrors of climate change. A climate change, that mostly privileged people like me in rich countries have caused and go on to worsen.
So every time now when I sit in a lecture and feel the despair rising up in my throat, I will pinch myself with my pen and remind myself of what I wrote here. And every time a family member asks me why I’m doing all this I will answer: “I know it is the right thing to do. That’s why.”
Title Picture: Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park. By Mike Lewelling, National Park Service (under Creative Commons)