Ever since I was a kid, animals were one of the only things I would obsess over, and that’s more or less an understatement. I’d sit down reading through every Zoobooks issue that came through the mail (all 50+ magazines). I was glued to the TV whenever Steve Irwin was on, and don’t even get me started on my trip down to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, my 7-year-old self was in paradise.
As I got out of high school and into college, I began my 6-year journey into an Environmental Science Degree. That decision led me down a road that seemed inevitable, what with my passions and all, but I had no idea what I was walking into. I would learn about what we’ve done as humans to the earth, leaving a trail of destruction with the animals I knew and love, at risk of getting hit by it. Honestly, thinking about it all can still be a hard pill for me to swallow, but now I’m looking back as a 24-year-old postgraduate, transitioning into the next chapter of my life. I’ve noticed that a lot of changes in my mindset have, in one way or another, originated from the moment I became an environmentalist and all of which have been for the better.
Everything Begins to Have More Value
It’s very easy to take what you have for granted when you’ve been using or eating something so often in your life.
You likely don’t think too much about how the electricity runs in your home, the process it takes to make and deliver the food you buy at a grocery store or even the production of a single string on an acoustic guitar. As an environmentalist, you start to see all of these things regularly, which changes everything.
“What’s that have to do with anything,” you ask? Let’s use the example of everyday food like pizza. Everyone loves pizza. To make a pizza, you first need the ingredients. Those ingredients have to come from natural resources that we’ve used ever since we started growing our own food thousands of years ago. You need water from a pipe system, salt from seawater or salt rocks, grain from the seeds planted in crop farms to make flour, and yeast from those same crop farms to make the pizza dough alone. Then you’ll need animal farms that house animals like cows for the milk to make cheese, and pigs for the meat to make the pepperoni slices. To keep those animals healthy, they also need food and water that comes from pipes and crop farms. Sounds like a lot, right? We’re just getting started.
To get those by-products, they require machines and vehicles like tractors. To make the tractor run, it needs a fuel source, which in this case, is likely oil. That oil was drilled out of the ground from deceased organisms that were fossilized into the earth (hence the name “fossil fuels”). Those farms and factories need the energy from a fuel source to store and make the pizza dough and pepperoni, using the by-products we talked about before. That energy comes from fuel, like oil or electricity from factories that get additional energy from the sun, wind, nuclear elements, etc.. The packaging also required trees to make cardboard boxing, or oil to make the plastic bags and wraps, and energy to run those factories.
Once the products are made, they get shipped out via plane, truck, train, boat, marathon runner, whatever means of travel are necessary. Transports also need the same kind of energy to get them where they need to go, so that means extra fuel on top of the fuel we’ve used so far to make this pizza. The products arrive at their destination: a restaurant, a grocery store, a dining area at a theme park, wherever you get your food. Those locations need the energy to store and make the food as well until finally, it reaches your grocery bag or your plate, and when you’re ready, right into your stomach.
That was the journey of a single pizza. If you felt overwhelmed by that story, I can’t say I blame you, but that’s kind of the point. This journey is the overall layout for any object you can think of that humans have made.
What many people haven’t thought about is that the earth has provided us with literally everything we’ve ever had, everything we have now, and everything we ever will have (until we start mining asteroids in space of course, but that’ll take a while. I’m still waiting on NASA or Elon Musk to jump on that).
When you think about the fact that so many resources go into a single item like a toothpick, a car, your shirt, the F3 key on a keyboard, or the frosting on a cake, it starts to put things into perspective.
When I started looking at things from those lenses, I realized that there are much better ways that the resources could be used for those who need it. I can also differentiate between what I want and what I need from that. That way, if I need something, I won’t waste it, and the process to make it wouldn’t be in vain. I don’t need the newest phone when it comes out for example, because the one I have is perfectly fine, and there’s no sense in wasting the one I have if it still works well. I don’t need the extra ketchup in my takeout bag if I’m not gonna use it, especially if somebody else could have it. I don’t need a Ziploc bag if I can reuse a Tupperware container to store my food in. Reusing what I have and wasting less of what I’ve been given allows me to appreciate it so much more than just another object. Wanting less has also saved me from burning my wallet alongside helping the planet, a win-win!
It Puts Your Ego in Check
Let me paint a word picture for you.
Imagine you’re floating above the Saraha Desert in Northern Africa. The sun shining over you, scorching the perfectly cut sand dunes that are shaped by the wind as if they were made to look like a silk blanket. Now, in the middle of this vast landscape, you feel the wind blowing toward the west. It carries a dust storm reaching heights as tall as skyscrapers. Sand and dust carrying phosphorus, a key element for life, flows through the storm. You follow it as it travels 10,000 miles out of the continent of Africa, and across the Atlantic Ocean. The thousands of tons of dust particles mix with the clouds, before suddenly reaching South America.
Upon your arrival, the mineral-rich clouds begin to rain over the Amazon. The jungle soaking in every drop of water it’s been given, and infused itself with the phosphate. The rain stops, and the sun comes out again, shining on the plants and animals residing there. You watch time pass as the trees and flowers grow more abundant, stronger, healthier than anything you’ve ever seen before. You look closer at the soil and find that very same phosphorus helping the jungle grow.
This natural phenomenon is a testament to how the world is much bigger than the one that you and I go through each day. It’s easy to find ourselves wrapped up in our own minds, living in our inner worlds, and focusing on what’s in front of us or how we’re projected in society, and yet so much goes on outside of that. Two polar opposite worlds exist in the very same world that we live in. A land nearly devoid of life provides for a new world so lush and abundant of it. Even though these worlds have never met, they are so intertwined with each other.
The craziest thing about it all? You are a part of this thriving ecosystem that we call Earth. While we have our own lives that we live, every single one of us is connected in some way, shape, or form with everything else. The world impacts you, as you do the world, and that’s a very humbling thought.
“Life, uh… Finds A Way”
You probably recognize that quote from Jeff Goldblum’s role in Jurassic Park.
The context of this line refers to how the founder, “Jon Hammond” wanted to make a theme park that brought dinosaurs back from extinction, and “spared no expense” on ensuring that these animals could be in a safe and controlled environment for people to enjoy. One of the precautions that were taken, was to make all the dinosaurs female, which would prevent them from breeding and overpopulating the island, becoming easier to maintain. A smart idea, in theory, but Jeff threw in his two cents, voicing the idea that life itself is not something that can be controlled. Life overcomes the obstacles that were placed in front of them.
This was a quote that resonated with me as I continued down this road of environmentalism. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was something that gave me hope in a world of climate denial, mass extinctions, and overexploitation. Let me explain…
I’ve experienced years of negativity in regards to the environment. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to hear all the news surrounding it. It takes a heavy toll on anyone to try and process it all (especially so regularly), and it’s so damned easy to fall into hopelessness nowadays. Yet, despite all of that, this quote turned into a reminder of what life is capable of. I’m not saying that the natural world we know of today can reverse what we’re doing to it by itself, but I recognize humanity as a part of that same life, and not only what we’re capable of doing, but what we’ve already done to help.
This quote slowly became relatable to me in rough times during my life too, outside of the environment. As anyone has, I’ve had some dark points in my life over the years. Stuff I wasn’t proud of, things that were outside of my control, and moments where I struggled to find the motivation to keep moving forward in the things that mattered to me. Despite all of those times though, “life found a way” to get me through it. When I say that, I mean that I knew somehow, I could find a way out of those dark times, Even as I’m writing this, I’m facing dark times that I know will eventually subside. No matter what happens, I’ll be okay.
If I can thank Jeff Goldblum for one thing, it’s for delivering a line that indirectly became a reminder to have faith, not just for the planet, but for all aspects of my life.
It’s funny to imagine that something I think about so passionately impacted me in such an emotional and philosophical manner. The fact that an ideology can define your mindset is so fascinating. Learning gratitude, staying humble, and having faith isn’t the sort of thing that I feel most people think about when talking about environmentalism.
While the subject of the environment is important, it’s interesting to notice how it affects your perspective of the world outside of it.
Being an environmentalist admittedly has it’s downfalls from time to time, but becoming one has changed me in more ways than my 7-year-old self would comprehend, and I’m so glad that in that regard, it worked out for me. Here’s to several more decades of tree-hugging and bothering my friends over why elephants are so great; can’t wait to see what’s in store.