More than ever before, the start of 2021 has got me (and I believe most of us) wondering : How can I be better, do better, for the planet and for those around me?
At the same time, in a world where a COVID pandemic runs rampant, facing yet another global crisis – such as climate change – can feel vastly overwhelming.
Thinking about the state of our environment can be stressful even on a good year – a 2019 research by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) showed that 4 in every 5 young people were worried about climate change.
According to participants, the worst part about the situation was the sense of helplessness it elicited.
Feeling helpless is something we can all relate to after 2020.
And yet, it is exactly in hard times like these that environmentalism can help us feel better.
While eco activism can feel like yet another thing to worry about, research shows that the benefits of being environmentally active can outweigh the negative impact of eco-anxiety.
In other words, by facing the problem we can help not only the planet, but also ourselves.
This is an idea that has plenty of not only scientific, but anecdotal evidence as well. I have experienced it first-hand, and have seen it change the lives of those around me.
It’s one of the core principles behind our work at TBYW – which is why I reached out to members of our community to ask about their experience.
From inspiration to healthy eating to socializing, here are some of the ways in which environmentalism has changed their lives – and how it might improve yours, too.
It gives you more agency
Research shows that activist behaviors – such as protesting against climate change – can help you feel more motivated and in control.
This is something that Alena Wagner, a Humanities student at the Amsterdam University College, knows from personal experience. Prior to the COVID pandemic, Alena frequently participated in climate marches.
Reflecting on her experience, she says: “Bigger actions like protest give you a sense of purpose and, if it works well, less of a feeling of powerlessness.”
Luckily for anyone who isn’t ready to go out protesting just yet (or for those of us stuck at home during lockdown), these benefits can apply to non-activist behavior as well.
You can get a similar sense of empowerment by simply making more eco-friendly choices in your everyday life. These can vary from recycling to sustainable shopping to following a plant-based diet.
“No matter how I feel at a certain moment in time, being vegan is always there to make me feel better about that one part of my life that is environmentalism,” 19-year-old UvA student Miriam Idris says.
“Every time I actively say no to something non-vegan it makes me feel fulfilled and happy.”
It helps you meet (and bond with) like-minded people
One of the best parts about environmentalism is how much it helps you bond with like-minded people.
This is something I experienced first-hand when I joined TBYW, and was met with a crowd of fresh, young, artistically-clad people who were all passionate about the environment.
It seems like I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. “Being part of the TBYW community is usually a really sociable experience which I think makes a lot of people happy,” the TBYW general coordinator Izzie Allen says.
Jonathan Hassel, co-founder of the initiative Erasmus By Train, agrees. “I started my true activism as an intern with TBYW,” he says.
“Since then I have met so many great people, and have lost my desperation about my future in a climate crisis.”
It encourages healthy eating
One of the main benefits I experienced from being vegetarian and trying to reduce my plastic consumption was healthy eating.
Because any diet that aims to minimize animal products and plastic-wrapped items ends up being... well, mostly fruits and vegetables.
Of course, this won’t apply to absolutely everyone following a plant-based diet.
“My best friend is vegan and eats the trashiest diet I’ve ever seen,” Miriam laughs. “But I think that being vegan can make you more aware of what you’re putting into your body.”
Eating in an environmentally conscious way – whether that means plant-based, plastic-free, zero-waste, or all of the above – will likely require you to do a lot more cooking than before.
And while this might be a challenge in the beginning, ultimately it will make hitting your five a day a whole lot easier.
The best part about it? Even if eating your greens doesn’t give you a healthy glow, knowing that you’re helping the planet surely will.
It gives you a greater sense of purpose
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face when it comes to environmentalism is how insignificant our individual actions can feel.
What difference does me using a Keep Cup make in the face of a global crisis?
Mental health experts warn against this mentality, however. “We recommend that young people consider what they can do about these issues, because taking action leads to greater self-efficacy, hopefulness and resilience,” APS psychologist Ros Knight says.
Many of the people I interviewed felt like environmentalism had given their lives a greater sense of purpose.
“Trying to live in an environmentally conscious way gives me the feeling of doing something, so it improves my sense of self-worth and self-identification,” Alena says.
Jonathan has a similar experience. “I can contribute to a better future despite the seemingly frustrating circumstances,” he says.
“The best part about this activism is that the beauty of the solution is more convincing than the fear about the future crisis.”
Images from www.pinterest.com