There’s no room for perfectionism within environmentalism

Many environmentalists advocate perfectionist lifestyles as the ideal way for individuals to reduce their impact on the planet. But perfectionism is a slippery slope in any domain, often pursued at a detriment to mental health and self-worth. Besides, in the context of current scientific knowledge and global supply chains, true environmental perfectionism is impossible.

Sustainability and environmental science are complex. When a product or service is eco-friendly in one aspect, it often falls short in another. A product that achieves zero waste, for example, solely focuses on the end life of a product’s packaging. And vegan foods and leathers center around a product’s origins, neglecting emissions from the global transport of these plant-based alternatives or their lack of biodegradability. Even with the most well-founded convictions, plenty of free time, and a favourable socioeconomic status, achieving perfect sustainability remains unrealistic.

Environmentalism is about progress, not perfection.

Attempting environmental perfectionism is rooted in privilege. Financial restrictions and busy schedules can easily limit people’s capacity to live sustainably. Not to mention that many people find themselves living within “green deserts,” or places where sustainable options are nonexistent. Similarly, opportunities to learn about one’s environmental footprint may be unattainable.

Another challenge to environmental perfectionism is our ever-changing reality. People must be prepared to change as new science comes to light. Alternatively, new technologies can change a product’s environmental impact. A lot of our consumeristic habits are just that – habits. It can be incredibly taxing to reflect on these changes every time you go to the store.

Just imagining having to trace the complete life cycle of each item in my weekly grocery haul makes me want to sleep.

The all-or-nothing mentality of certain ideologies found within the environmental movement can lead to anxiety, guilt, and shame. Natural negativity bias can lead us to obsess over imperfections instead of praising our efforts, no matter how small.

It’s okay to be hypocritical when it comes to environmentalism. It’s okay to advocate for practices unfeasible to you. If you can’t afford to install solar panels on your home, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have those conversations with people who can. If there’s no reliable public transport in your area, it doesn’t mean that you should oppose taking busses or trains in metropolitan regions. If health conditions prevent you from safely choosing more sustainable foods, by all means, protect your well-being, yet encourage your entourage to try more environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Unapologetically, I love cheese.

In many ways, I’m a hypocrite in my environmentalism. As a student living in rural Quebec, I am far from achieving environmental sustainability (hence this blog’s name, Periodically Green). My budget, commitments, and what’s available to me within my community restrict what I can do. Instead of feeling burdened by my limitations, I strive to do what I can, when I can, according to the best of my knowledge.

Some sustainable practices I choose are to:

  • Omit meat from my diet
  • Bike or walk within my community
  • Purchase produce directly from local farmers
  • Buy second-hand as much as possible
  • Compost and recycle (according to community-specific guidelines)
  • Invest in reusable products

Some unsustainable things I don’t stress over, as they’re currently unfeasible for me, are:

  • Long car rides to visit family and friends
  • International travel by plane
  • Buying food in plastic packaging (the closest bulk store requires a 70 km drive)
  • Eating dairy and fish on occasion
  • Shopping from Amazon (and contributing to the absurd fortune of everyone’s favourite capitalist overlord)

My current approach to sustainability leaves plenty of room for improvement, yet I don’t feel guilt or shame. Instead, I hope to be able to continue to do better as I go through life. I hope that small collective actions will continue to promote policies and global markets that make sustainability even more accessible. And I hope that someday, someone will invent good-tasting vegan cheese.

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