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Global Warnings: Future environmentalists should not be afraid to make mistakes

Don’t be discouraged by slip-ups in saving the environment- none of us are a perfect shade of green.

Today’s column deviates a bit from the norm. Instead of introducing a new concept or listing off ideas for environmental awareness, I’m going to talk about something a little bit more personal — making mistakes.

For example, last night when I crept into my dorm room at 2 a.m., I grabbed one of my roommate’s non-reusable water bottles. Which, if you have read this column in the past, you’ll recognize as a cardinal sin of environmentalism.

And yet, life went on. I may have done the exact thing I advised other people not to do. Something that I knew was wrong and would create the kind of impact I have been trying to dissuade.

But it also made me realize that I made bad choices every day, at least in terms of being “green.” I consider myself an environmentally-conscious person and, consequently, I consciously make environmentally-unfriendly decisions.

I drive my car because I don’t feel like walking. I throw something away that could be recycled, just because there’s no recycling bin in sight. I may approve of bicycling around campus, but you’ll never see me do it.

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And that’s okay. You don’t have to be a hippie to be an environmentalist. You don’t have to be a vegan, or an outdoor enthusiast or someone who uses the phrase “carbon footprint.” You definitely don’t have to be perfect.

I feel like people shy away from admitting they care about their environment and want to make progressive changes, all because they know they’re not the Mother Teresa of reusing, reducing and recycling.

Here’s a secret: None of us are.

Even the people who seem like they’re the John Muir of modern times probably aren’t. I used to be a pretty hardcore vegan and, no surprise, people in that community are assumed to be die-hard environmentalists.

But they still drive cars and buy smartphones made with precious metals and don’t spend all their free time picking litter off the side of highways or saving sea otters.

Al Gore might have alerted half the world’s population to the existence of global warming, but he still uses a private jet and lived in a gigantic mansion.

My environmental science teacher in high school could talk for days about the importance of conservation, but he still loves a good hamburger.

We’re all human. None of us can or should be expected to spend all our time contributing to the solution instead of causing the problem. What matters is doing your best to have an overall positive impact, even after you’ve subtracted all the bad stuff.

If you’re not willing to give up your plastic water bottles, fine. If you’re never, ever going to go hiking, that’s your prerogative. But maybe you recycle, or donate to the Sierra Club or drive a Chevrolet Volt. And in that case, you’re just as worthy as calling yourself an environmentalist as the rest of us are.

And who knows, maybe you’re the next Henry David Thoreau.  

Kat Tenbarge is a freshman majoring in journalism and environmental studies. What environmental issues do you think demand attention? Email her at or tweet her @katsappho.

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