With No "Quick Fixes" in Conservation, How Do Environmentalists Find Balance Between Happiness and Meaning?
I’ve been feeling the need lately to share the confusion that’s been going on in my head, so this post is a bit more of a journal entry, with plenty of relevance to eco-living and the challenges we “green dreamers” face. I hope that by elaborating on my own thoughts, I might reach someone else who needs to hear that there is another human being experiencing the same emotions. The world is encountering a new level of challenging times right now, and I personally recognize and feel this more and more as I get older, experience the world further through travel, and engage in more and more inspiring conversations with people from across the globe. We are all handling the challenges (whether they involve social injustice, climate change, pollution, food shortages, and other sticky issues) differently, because we are all unique individuals with our own brains and different wiring systems. I tend to feel most strongly and passionately about the “eco” side of things; that’s just where my heart lies. I still get angry and flustered and hurt when I hear about other issues - but one girl would go crazy if she poured all of herself into too many concerns.
Coupled with this dense feeling of motivation to help the environment, I have personally been struggling with what my “next step” is. In years passed, when I have felt a similar struggle (as a seasonal guide, this happens at least twice a year if not more), I’ve always reverted back to listening to my gut and trying to figure out what would make me happiest in that moment. This strategy has led me to some interesting and enriching experiences, certainly, and I don’t regret any of them (at least, most of the time). But I am now concerned that making decisions based solely on my own happiness is turning into a selfish endeavor, especially if there is a different choice I could make that would allow me to use my talents to have a greater impact on the healing of our planet. Travel and seasonal work is fun, and it allows me to see beautiful corners of the globe, but is it really the best use of my talents? Or, is it helping me uncover exactly what my skills are and what issues I want to apply them towards solving? Should I suck it up and just fork over the cash to go back to school and study? Should I be turning more towards policy and activism? Who even reads my blog? Does anyone care what I have to say?
And another thought - is travel selfish? Flights have a horrendous carbon footprint. Travel in general creates emissions galore. But I don’t think my spirit would have evolved into the same energetic, vibrant, often very dark but still hopeful essence that it is today if I hadn’t done all of these worldly explorations. Every road that I’ve taken in life has led me to exactly where I need to be. I accept that. But it doesn’t make uncovering the future or making decisions in the now any easier. There’s also the truth that there are no quick fixes in conservation, so making decisions that might be best for the planet often involve accepting the reality of delayed gratification. We might not be happy with those decisions in the moment because they are uncomfortable.
So, when do we make a decision based on furthering our personal growth and making our current self happy, and when do we make a decision based on what’s best for the environment and what will allow us to achieve a goal that has a greater impact on bettering the planet?
My good friend Claire came to visit recently. We had some good long chats on our hiking journeys in Arthur’s Pass here in New Zealand and on our long drives from the East to West Coast. Claire is very much a social justice advocate, just as I am very much an environmental advocate. We complement each other well and learn a lot from each other’s ramblings. I adore being around people with a similar drive but different passions. It’s refreshing to both provide and feed off of someone’s energy, necessary in a time when our own energy can rapidly be depleted by a lack of motivation and disappointment. She talked about similar concerns with travel - is it responsible? When are certain places best left unvisited? Tourism can certainly change the values of a place; catering to visitors can mask or completely take over the culture. Money can cause people to do desperate things at the risk of losing their sense of identity or their heritage. And if you travel to places where this is happening, are you contributing to this fast globalization? Should you just…not go? Even if you’re committed to eco-friendly, ethical, or mindful travel, your presence in a place still has an impact. Can you ensure it’s a positive one?
But the idea of not traveling is scary too…for many of us, it is our heartbeat, our escape, our passion, our way to uncover the issues and challenges within and bring the rawest version of ourselves to the surface. It is our way to feel more connected in a world that is continually leaving us feeling disconnected.
So where do we go from here? I’ve been doing a lot of discerning and discovering as I try to figure how this all applies to my own journey and my own life. This is what I’ve come up with: right now, I feel I am meant to be exploring and meeting people. I have this intense desire to meet and collaborate with other influential individuals who want to better the world. Whether the relationships I form are purely friendship-based or turn into business partnerships is up to the Universe. I just know that I receive a lot of inspiration from the people I’ve encountered in my travels and in my line of work. So for now, until another path calls my name, this journey of exploration will continue. I want to keep connecting people to the marine environment and help them to make lasting memories with the animals that call the ocean home. I hope that I will continue to inspire others by showing them how to tackle conservation and greener living. And I hope to keep living a very salty island lifestyle (yay!).
Is anyone else out there struggling with their next steps, or how to align their career or lifestyle with their goals to live a greener life? I hear you! Send me an e-mail or comment below to spark a discussion. You never know what inspiration we might give each other, or another reader.
I’m also riding a high from seeing Xavier Rudd in concert last night here in Christchurch, and I highly recommend his concerts to anyone! He is a talented performer and really knows how to engage an audience. His performances on the harmonica and didgeridoo are INSANE.
Keep on dreaming,
Photos offered by the lovely Claire Kennedy