A good friend and fellow fundraiser sent me this Washington Post item from last month, a satirical editorial about how radical environmentalists make fabulous villains because they want to make your life worse, as witnessed in two Hollywood blockbusters, The Avengers: Infinity War and Aquaman. In Avengers, Thanos wants to kill half of all living things. In Aquaman, King Orm of Atlantis wants to destroy the humans living on land who keep polluting his ocean.
I’m here to set the record straight. On behalf of all environmentalists, radical or not, I want to make your life better. And I want you to understand who we really are.
Environmentalists are troubled and kind. We are anxious and we are hopeful. We work for a variety of corporations and organizations as varied as federal, state, and local governments, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Caterpillar, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International, among thousands of others. We are smart and informed and we are talking to people all over the world, be they in poor, rural villages in places like Indonesia, Bolivia or Kenya, or in wealth centers in Geneva, Singapore, Beijing, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.
We are continually learning together and brainstorming, day and night. We are developing solutions to problems so interconnected it’s barely useful to call one an environmental issue and one a human health or economic issue. Whether the topic is sanitation, or family planning, or water quality, or infectious disease, or growing enough food, or air pollution, or jobs, or drought and wildfires, or illegal trafficking of young girls or of rhino horns, they all happen in one place, the only place in this universe where we humans can live—Earth.
So how do we do all this learning, brainstorming, and problem-solving in the face of daunting challenges? Let’s face it, humans can be the worst. They make mistakes constantly. They are not good at thinking ahead. They take plants, minerals and fossils from the Earth and never worry about running out. They ruin soil, cut down trees, build ugly, unappealing strip malls and housing developments, they take more water than they ought to and they burn wood, fly in carbon-spewing commercial jets, and kill animals as though they do not matter. They commit the most atrocious of crimes against one another. And they take forever to learn, and appear to need to learn the same things, over and over, no matter how many times others have made the same mistakes.
Here’s what my co-workers and friends in the environmental preservation and conservation sector do to combat all that ails humanity. We embrace philanthropy. I don’t mean the people who give money away. Or the people who ask for it in non-governmental organizations. I’m not talking about private operating foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or people who make major or capital gifts to charity like Marc Benioff or back in the day, the Carnegie or Rockefeller families. I’m talking about the real definition derived from the Latin and Greek, “philanthrōpos,” love of our fellow humans. I’m talking about becoming people who practice loving people.
How? Be the antidote to despair. Find ways to heal and soothe and help your fellow citizens.
Here are three things you can do:
1) Tell better stories. Share how your community is naming its problems, how it’s tackling them, or how it needs to tackle them. Ask for help. Take pictures of the problems, tell us what’s happening. It’s so easy now with all the social media channels available to post and share. We’re animals, very social animals, and we need stories like air, like water. They teach us. They will save us.
2) Turn to the nearest human and do something for them. You don’t have to travel to Africa or Asia or South America to find a human in need. Ask that nearest human how they’re doing, if they need any help. Listen. Carry something heavy for another person.
3) If you’re tired, take a nap. Maybe the only thing you can do today is to help yourself. That’s just as valuable. The world needs people who are rested and ready for what’s ahead.
I hope you understand me, and my colleagues, a little bit better. We see scientific evidence everywhere we look that we can, and we must, make our Earth, our one and only home, better for everyone. It’s not radical, it’s loving.