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If you're an environmentalist, read this. - Mazingira Safi Initiative
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What is my role as an environmentalist? This is the question I found myself asking as I walked through Bus Station on Thursday last week. The place was a sight for sore eyes. The drainage was blocked with garbage and the air stunk to the high heavens. What has always astonished me, and continues to astonish me is the way we as citizens continue about our business in such a filthy environment. It amazes me how we grow accustomed to the problem and find a way around it. Such sights and more completely piss off environmentalists, me included.

Environmental conservation is big today. What I’ve noted with myself and other environmentalists is how angry we get when we’re calling for environmental reforms. We huff and puff in conferences, we proclaim doom if this or that is not done and get irritated when the response is not coming as fast as we want it to. We ask why people don’t do anything to improve the environmental situation. Let me tell you why they don’t seem bothered. The dying state of the environment doesn’t bother them as much as it bothers you. If we want them to do something about it, we must put anger aside, play our role as environmentalists to truly to see the impact of our work.  

The first role of an environmentalist is to inform the people of what’s happening in the environmental world. We inform to remind people of how finite we are compared to the environment in which we live in and to transform. At the moment, it’s impossible for someone to feign ignorance about the adverse effect of poor environmental conservation. However, it’s extremely important for us to localize the information. Use local examples to highlight local problems and how they interfere with everyday life. How we present the information also matters. It should be easy to understand and memorable. Don’t bellow in anger. Nobody listens to an angry person but they will listen to a passionate one. Passion is attractive, inspiring and invigorating. Be passionate.

Once you inform people of the situation, provide a solution. If you’re going to call out a problem, you better have a solution. Don’t sell the problem. Sell the vision (solution). Problems can only sell once or twice. (Trust me. I have a t-shirt on this). Visions sell for eternity. For example, we know that events generate a lot of waste. When I go to pitch on better waste management, I paint a picture of how awesome it would be to have a waste-free event and the impact it would make. Statistics are good but a vision is compelling. Your solution must also be practical and local-based. Don’t apply solutions for abroad here. Contextualize them. These solutions don’t always have to be easy. Some things in life take time and are hard. They should be enjoyable to implement too.  

Finally, provide support required. Out of the many that we will talk to, we’ll find people who are willing to bet on the environment. It’s these people that we should focus on. Studies show that to effect change, you only need 20% of a population to do the right thing. These 20% will convert the 80%. Not only will this make your work effective and multiply your impact, you’ll also be happier to continue doing it and paying the associated cost.

People know there’s a need to conserve the environment. They probably want to do something about it but haven’t been told what to do or how to do it. Perhaps they feel helpless with all the doom messages around. Perhaps nobody has sold them a vision that demands their own transformation. This is our role as environmentalists. To draw people to our side and make them see what we see. Anger helps no one so let’s drop it.


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