The environmental community tends to have a split reputation with two distinct versions “the hippy” and “the game changer”. The first image is often associated with the words “crunchy” or “granola” and involves a zero-waste vegan that makes their own deodorant, doesn’t shower often, wears Birkenstocks and elephant pants, and spends all their free time hiking. The second version creates an image of a person in the tech industry or policy and law that wears a power suit, negotiates with large corporations to ensure corporate social responsibility, eats only high-grade grass-finished beef, and only shops expensive sustainable brands like Credo. One focuses on personal consumption and the other on structural change, but that isn’t to say that one is better than the other. Let’s make it clear—both are environmentalists. Why can’t both we considered equally valid in the field?
I believe that “the hippy” tends to be the environmentalist that many picture and one the tends to be discredited. Although this paints a narrow view, but at the heart of this image is an environmentalist that focuses on personal choices and individual impact. “The hippy” environmentalist can be seen in the refusal of single use plastics, a plant-based diet, and the use of public transportation over cars. This environmentalist recognizes their own impact and believes individual actions amount to big changes. However, they tend to have a bad reputation where they aren’t taken seriously. Why is reducing one’s personal carbon footprint any less important than passing a piece of legislation that increases the amount of public transportation?
On the other hand, “the game changer” is the environmentalist version that isn’t immediately thought of. This includes the Al Gore’s of the field that work to reduce emissions, waste, and natural resources deterioration with the tools of policy and law. The primal focus of “the game changer” is to create structural and institutional change with how we deal with our resources and problems including the banning of fracking, expanding of waste infrastructure, and the suing of corporations that are major polluters. This promotes the viewpoint that big changes require a change of rules and practices of governments and corporations. Although structural change can be undoubtedly argued as a necessity, are personal actions not a requirement to make sure these systems in place work?
Despite the stereotypes of the two versions of environmentalists, both are valid approaches to environmentalism that are necessary to create an impact. “The hippy” may work to reduce their own consumption when industries tend to be the biggest problem, however, they are grounded in the fact that in the U.S. alone we consume enough plastic straws to circle around the Earth’s circumference 2.5 times per day, and that 1 kilogram of beef produces 34.6 kilograms of CO2e. They recognize that you matter, therefore so do your actions and your consumption. In the same vein, “the game changer” recognizes that businesses are not regulated on their use of single use plastics, and that the agricultural sector is one of the most responsible industries for air and water pollution. They recognize that businesses and governments need to be held accountable for their impact. These visions are not split from one another but are rather two sides of the same coin with the same goals. “The hippy” and “the game changer” need to be combined into a single category of people working to instill change because “¿por qué no los dos?”