Green Or Bust?


By Guest Contributor

It was 8 o’clock on a Thursday morning when I heard a knock at my front door. The sky was blue, the birds were chirping, and … nobody I knew in my three years of college existence would be knocking on my door right now.

“… Carolyn! Do you want to … come in?”

That was the first moment I ever hated environmentalism. My landlord was bright eyed and ready to make the world a greener place: starting with us. In one hand was a recycling quiz she had made for my housemates and me. In the other was a bag of seven non-recyclable items she had found while periodically combing through our recycling bin over the last two weeks. The fifty minutes that followed brought an in-person quiz on the beer bottles we should have been reusing and plastic bags we should have been refusing. As an environmentalist myself, I should have been a fan of this. Education combats ignorance, right? But something felt discreetly annoying. As she modeled her canvas tote bag and passionately denounced the evil sheet of Styrofoam, it occurred to me: 

Could we, as environmentalists, be turning people off to environmentalism?

My first clue that the answer is a resounding “yes” was the gradient of reactions my friends and family had to this story. Their reactions generally corresponded with whether or not they were already environmentalists.

“Well, I guess it’s good that you’re more aware now,” a table of my enviro-friends seemed to conclude, not quite picking up on the ridiculous punch line of a grown woman burrowing through my trash can while I was in class. Meanwhile, my aunt and uncle, very mild conservatives and environmentally impartial, couldn’t escape their anger for long enough to laugh the story off as an amusing incident. 

Anger? Anger had never occurred to me. I asked my uncle to expand.

 “You aren’t their houseguests. If you lease a car from Ford, you do not expect the CEO to show up for a ride-along and tell you what music you should be listening to while you drive.” 

Underneath the example I found his answer. To him, the idea of a recycling intervention threatens the value he holds most deep: autonomy. He thought he was mad about recycling. He wasn’t. He was mad that my landlord short-circuited my personal freedom for the sake of recycling.

“Yes, that’s unfortunate, but this is too important!” I hear chambers of fellow activists exclaiming. ‘This is the future of humanity! If we don’t intervene, they won’t change.’ Isn’t this how we go about environmentalism in general? More regulation and oversight to limit bad behavior? When you really think about it, the EPA is a glorified Carolyn-the-landlord.

I couldn’t agree more! —in theory. In theory, the ends should justify the means of saving the planet. 

But then again, in theory, everyone in this country should be eagerly embracing environmentalism. And yet they aren’t. I think we need to ask ourselves why. We intervene because we think we have active opponents, but maybe we have so many active opponents because of the way we intervene. Instead of dragging them through the streets for the sake of our cause, perhaps we should inspire them to follow us willingly.

Artwork by EUNICE KIM

ALEXA BEYER ‘15.5 is from Los Angeles, Calif.