An Environmentalist’s Evolution

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I came to be so fiercely concerned with the state of the world; with all it’s complex social and environmental aspects. The truth is, my interests have developed, evolved and broadened as I’ve grown from a wide-eyed bubbah to a 20 year old university student.

My interest in the environment was probably given a good head start by my parents, my mum especially. I enjoyed a pretty unconventional upbringing, which involved home education, growing up in a woodland low impact settlement, plenty of wacky life experiences and a healthy dose of skepticism towards government and general authority. My mum taught me to respect plants and animals, to be grateful for my food and never waste it, not to waste water, how to make a fire and which wild plants were edible.

Whether because of this or for some other innate reason, I remember always, from as young as I can remember, being extremely fond of animals. I used to read zoology books constantly and fantasize about opening an animal sanctuary. When I was eight years old, I distinctly remember engaging two of my friends in conversation about the issue of animal cruelty. We decided we would do something about this broad and prevalent issue, and Tiger’s Eye Kid’s Club was born. Our parents thought it was great and helped us a lot, it would never of happened without their work. I made all my friends join and we basically raised awareness about animal rights issues and raised money for action groups. We had a website, which my dad made, and we had information stalls at Glastonbury Festival for two years.

I eventually dropped Tiger’s Eye as I became older and needed to focus on my GCSEs. But that was really where my interest in environmental issues came from, because my research told me that many animals are threatened mostly from habitat destruction and pollution. The more I learned, the more I began to see environmental damage as a problem in and of itself, rather than just because of the animals it affects. I took Environmental Studies at A Level which consolidated this view, and also showed me how complex environmental problems really are, and how many human effects they have. It was around my time in college that I began to look more at the human perspective, seeing pollution, hazards and climate change as problems that have severe and important social repercussions. I started reading and thinking about the concept of sustainability, which is being environmentally responsible because it makes sense from a human standpoint, rather than conservation which is good for ‘the rest of nature’. From there it was only a short jump to caring more deeply about social issues in the broader sense.

During my gap year, I did lots of reading around these subjects and I began to realise how most environmental and even social issues are caused by the way our economy is set up. This led to me taking a sudden interest in economics, and especially new or ecological economics pioneered by the Post Growth Institute, nef and CASSE. I spent countless hours scribbling in notebooks and racking my brains, trying to envision or design an economy whose rules would automatically encourage a sustainable and happy society – a kind of utopia that I was obsessed with imagining.

I went to university for a degree in Environment and Media Studies and so far I’ve loved every second of it. Last year we studied subjects I hadn’t really considered before, which broadened my interests still further. I became incredibly interested in politics, feminism, human rights, and especially with world development and poverty reduction. I continued to do lots of reading about alternative economics, and when I read Enough is Enough everything seemed to click into place. When I stumbled upon this concept of a post-growth or steady-state economy, where the goal is sustainable and equitable human well-being rather than profit, and the economy doesn’t grow but stays balanced within the Earth’s limits, I felt like I’d found the recipe for the philosopher’s stone or something…

I was elated.

This was the solution I’d been trying to dream up, already laid out neatly if slightly inconclusively by like-minded thinkers.

My attitude towards modernity, cities and technology has also changed radically since I was a young teen. I used to think people should ‘get back to the land’ and that technological advancement was no good for humanity or the Earth. I no longer think that way. I think cities are here to stay, and rightly so. I think technology can be harnessed to do great things and I’m a little bit in awe of the internet. I think there’s no sense in trying to return to a rustic idyll that wasn’t actually that romantic; I think we need to evolve to a state we’ve never read about in history books.
I used to be in love with the past, but we’ve broken up and now I’m infatuated with the future.

I’m just about to start my second year of university, and I can’t wait to begin soaking up more knowledge and learning even more about my subject. As ever, I’ll continue to post my thoughts, ideas and discoveries on this blog.
I’m now convinced that a post-growth society is our best possible hope of having a sustainable society with a high quality of life, as opposed to living very frugally amidst environmental desolation. I endeavour to learn more about this new but growing concept and maybe even add something of my own, one day.

It’s very interesting to study how interests evolve.
If I could tell my five-year-old butterfly-chasing, squirrel-feeding self that one day I’d be fascinated by economics, I don’t think I’d of believed it!


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