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Back in the days I was known among my group of friends as the environmentalist, the green police. Without me even saying anything friends would apologise that they had not yet had their recycling set up properly, or that they chose to drive to the gym when they could have walked. In those days I woke up from nightmares about extreme weather events and rising oceans, and every time I turned on a water tap or switched on the light I would feel bad, I felt it deep inside. I felt like just about everything that I was doing as a normal citizens was having a negative impact on the natural environment, and was playing a role in impacting the climate.

I also struggled with the thought of staying in South Africa, which would mean flying faaaaaar to see my family. I was worried not just because of the impact that my flying was making, but also because I seriously thought that within my lifetime it would probably not be possible for us to continue flying like that, because within too long the world would wake up and actually enforce some kind of restrictions on flying. When I did fly back then I made sure not to collect flight miles, because at least I should not be benefiting from flying… At this point in my life, around 2009/2010, my sisters were worried. They thought I might end up in a cottage in the forest, with barefoot children who did not know how to switch on a computer.

Then, with time, something happened. I changed, the deeply concerned feeling disappeared. I started collecting airmiles, I had longer showers without feeling bad and I slowly started eating more meat again. Did I “switch it off,” or did I somehow stop caring? Or, did I simply grow up, leaving behind my concerns and idealistic belief that I actually play an important role and can change the world?

A recent event opened my eyes to the fact that my personal change might not be that unique at all. This happened to be at a dinner with a group of actors from the UK. I was way out of my depth, talking about the latest theater performances and this or that interpretation of some Shakespeare play. So when someone brought the issue of climate change to the table I was relieved. Some of those present were planning to set up a play about climate change (in the UK, not South Africa sadly), and we got talking about the need to raise awareness, talk about the realities of climate change. One of them pointed out how awareness and concern among people seems to have fizzled out. She reflected on how, a few years back, she would have had second thoughts about the ethics of flying all the way to South Africa, while now she didn’t even think about it when she booked her holiday.

Ching, I had a lightbulb moment! Maybe I am not that unique after all? Maybe my personal process is simply a reflection of how the general concern about climate change has shifted? The peak of my concern happened to be around the time of the 2009 COP in Copenhagen, a time at which general concern for climate change was high and climate was a big buzzword in media.

As we move towards another “milestone COP” in Paris this year, maybe the general public and, with that, the deeply concerned environmentalist in me will come back to life?  Or, hopefully, despite whatever happens at and in connection with COP in Paris, I will start feeling it again?! Yet I hope that with that feeling comes a drive for change that stems from a sense of hope and a positive vision rather than from a sense of fear and guilt….

One Response to “The Death of an Environmentalist?!”

  1. Bruce

    That’s a really valuable story. Thanks. And from the wisdom of a theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary in Africa:

    “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” -Albert Schweitzer