When I applied to the Climate Reality Leadership Corps one of the things that gave me pause was the idea of being labeled an environmentalist. I remember doing interviews for a story about a “Rush Room” for my student newspaper in Memphis. This off-campus bar would be open midday and play Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. To me, his is the voice I hear in my head when I hear the word environmentalist—or at least I hear him using his own term: environmental wacko.
Just to be clear, I’m no fan of Rush. But when I think about the way he views individuals working on behalf of environmental issues, it makes me wonder how the average person views these crusaders.
I was excited to be accepted to the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, and I began telling people what I’d be doing on my week’s vacation from the office. Some thought it was interesting. Some didn’t really understand it. A few even seemed impressed, asking if this was leading to a career move or talking about meeting former Vice President Al Gore.
Given the early reactions, I felt a little more comfortable telling more people outside that inner circle. Most just gave a generic response—that’s fine. But I was in a meeting this week and described briefly what I would be doing the following week. One of the people at the meeting just looked a little confused, and the other said something to the effect of, “She’s going to save the planet for my grandchildren and your children,” while leaning over, putting her arm around me.
Huh? At that moment I felt like she may as well have called me an environmental wacko. I change the subject. It wasn’t the time to elaborate, but I know where I have work to do in the coming year.
In that town they “prettify” the titles of those working on environmental issues. They call them things like “Stewards of the River.” Man, I don’t really fancy that kind of label either.
I believe environmental issues are among the most important issues humans face right now. If we continue down the path of making our planet uninhabitable, it won’t matter if there is peace or a cure for cancer or an end to world hunger—because there won’t be any world left to go to war over or patients to heal or hungry to feed.
I feel a moral responsibility to use the time and tools I have to shine a spotlight on climate change in hopes that our neighbors will begin to see that climate change is real, it’s already affecting them, it’s going to get worse, and most importantly that there is something they can do about it.
Does that make me an environmentalist? Maybe by some definitions. What I am certain of is that there are many people like me all over the world. I’ll be spending my summer vacation hours with more than 1400 of them this week. Some wear the label of environmentalist like a badge of honor. Kudos to them. They own it. Others are more my brand of (dare I say) activist. They are concerned, they want to help, and they are in on the conversation. We need them all. Everyone responds differently, and the wider the variety of climate leaders we have in our ranks, the more people we can not just reach but engage in our work against climate change.
So, are you an environmental activist? Do you wear the badge? Or are you more the concerned-global-citizen-type, moving the conversation forward? Or do you have another name like one of my fellow climate leaders, Good Green Witch? How about climate superhero? Tree-hugger? Discuss.
For me, after the close of this week’s training, I think I’ll just stick with climate leader. Yeah.