Rethinking What It Means to Be an Environmentalist

I’ve met a lot of people that distance themselves from the term “environmentalist”, probably because they don’t want to be perceived as a granola munching, tree hugging hippie.  And as much as I love granola and trees, I probably don’t qualify as a hippie.  But I am definitely an environmentalist. 

If you look “environmentalist” up in the dictionary, it is defined as “one who is concerned about environmental quality especially of the human environment with respect to the control of pollution.”  What part of that could anyone claim is unreasonable?  What part would anyone not subscribe to?  Who can claim to have no concern for the environment?  Who doesn’t care about clean water?  Or clean air that is free from pollution?  Or food to eat that is free of contaminants and pesticides and heavy metals?  We all want these things because we couldn’t survive without them.  Yet so many of us are unable to make the connection between our own survival and what it means today to be an environmentalist.

The preservationist John Muir said it best: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”


The old adage used to be that to make a difference you had to do something.  But the truth is that everything that you do is making a difference. The challenge we all have to confront is this: Is the difference helping or hurting? In a world of finite resources, changing climates and growing populations, there is no such thing as an insignificant choice. 

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
— John Muir

I know that my grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau grew tired of answering questions about the environment in his later days. He said that he was weary of people ignoring the extraordinary miracles that exist in our world only to ask why we should protect it. He always wanted to know how we as a society got to the point that we could even ask that question.

Perhaps we have forgotten an essential lesson.  As my grandfather once said, "To touch life is to know it and to know of life is to love it.

What does "environmentalist" mean to you?