An Environmentalist’s Dilemma

I feel constrained.

In whatever I try to do creatively, I always feel like I should be centering the message around environmentalism. The thought process typically goes something like this: “Ooh this is a cool idea! But wait, you care about the environment, and person X did a cool thing with the environment, so you should also do something with the environment” If my initial ideas don’t get shot down at the beginning, I usually end up feeling that I could’ve done “more” after the fun and novelty wears off.

I’ve been operating from a standpoint of trying to please my emotions, and this usually comes out to: environmental message = good | other idea = cool, but ultimately “meaningless”. This model is ultimately flawed, however, as it’s become more of an effort just to satisfy myself by doing something that doesn’t have any real impact, but feels like it does.

Like honestly, who’s going to care or see the now-defunct website I made last spring about how recycling’s a scam in my programming class? I sure felt like I was doing something right though.

This mental model is also responsible for a lot of unnecessary internal conflict about what I want to do with my life. I like art, and I like programming. The latter’s what I can see myself doing in the near future as a start to my career. The problem is programming/web development is not inherently designed to have any direct impact on improving the environment. Science fits that bill much better, and I’ve found myself trying to convince myself to like science more and perhaps get a job in that discipline.

Like all humans, my mind is bad at extrapolating. I catch myself in this process I call future projecting where I imagine myself in a position in the future, but armed with only my current understanding of the world.

Essentially I’m seeing myself in 5 year’s time working at some tech company making no positive impact on the environment as the clock ticks down to 2030. The reason being that, in the present, Silicon Valley hasn’t done a whole lot for green tech, and a website can’t suck carbon out of the air by itself. On the other hand, it seems like scientists are behind the boom in meat alternatives, Tesla, and renewables. Because of this, it’s pretty easy to imagine the science-y future version of myself as part of the wave that’s changing the world.

Once my fantasies settle down, the rational part of my brain kicks in and says that statistically, most scientists won’t ever get to make a huge impact on the world. Scientific headlines are just like sports; only results are ever reported, and rarely are the long, boring hours of research and failures ever witnessed. My expectation to reality gap is pretty massive, and I’m positive that I’d struggle to process the slow progress that ultimately makes up science. I could very well be making a real impact with a discovery, and it still wouldn’t feel right for me.

All of these assumptions seem to rest on the foundation of me being the individual who’s bringing about change. It’s a bit of a naive notion, and it could very well turn out that I’d contribute indirectly to the health of the planet by being on the team of someone else who is having a direct impact.

Heck, it really seems like I should redefine what I’m trying to attain in life. I suppose an ideal endeavor would be one that a) “feels right” to me, and b) is something whose impact is something that can be verified with data. A lot of times I think of something that would change maybe one or two people as not really worth doing, and instead be enamored with a bigger ticket item that could change more people but never come to fruition. If my math checks out, 1 and 2 seem to be bigger than 0.

Though debatable, the focus on trying to gather political will to deploy the already existing tools for combating climate change, isn’t really making much headway. Though this could impact hundreds of millions of individuals if it were successful, smaller community based projects are having more luck in terms of changing the lives of people to date.

It really is an ongoing process to internalize the saying that “the grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it”. The biggest impact I can have on individuals is what I can see in front me; the grand reality in my head is really nothing more than just silly little electrical impulses firing around.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash



A blog for documenting my thought processes over the course of a project and how I can improve upon them in the future. Writing challenges me to build a “tree trunk’s foundation” [Tim Urban] of knowledge as I tackle new challenges.

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