“I’m $15 000 dollars in debt, and live in a shitty basement apartment. There is no rainbow on the other side.”
This is the picture that Cam Fenton, Climate Justice organizer and National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, painted for the audience of the final panel at Earth Day Canada’s Beyond Green conference. It was just one aspect of his opening remarks that tore through traditional environmental talking points and instead focused on the importance of understanding and dismantling unequal power structures.
In the week or so since, the speech, while certainly a barn burner, has to some extent faded into the ether that is the rest of the conference. But that line has remained with me. Here was a man, who is certainly at the forefront of Canadian environmentalism, declaring himself unsuccessful in the number one way our society understands success. For a while, I presumed it stuck with me because I identified with it. I’m happy to say that I’m not $15 000 in debt, but financially scraping by in—a ‘perfectly acceptable to me—’semi-basement apartment is certainly a fair characterization of my life. (As an aside, I’d trade both for the chance to speak to thousands of youth on the importance of climate change, but I digress).
However, after mulling around in my head for a while I realized the true reason why it stuck with me. It was not because of what it said, but rather, what it represented: Radical honesty.
Environmentalists, at least professional ones, are not wont to speak of their lives in any terms beyond their own work and the talking points and messages that they deem most important. We are a cause, not a group of individuals, and 99% of our messaging represents us as such. Yet there is ample evidence that this plan simply is not working. A recent U of T study showed just how negatively ‘environmentalists’ were viewed. When you’re an idea and not a person, it’s a lot harder for people to identify with you, and all of history has shown just how negatively humanity can react when it doesn’t see itself in someone or something.
So I’ve decided to try something different. Environmentalists and environmentalism do not have the resources of those who are currently stymieing our efforts towards sustainability. What we do have is the ability to be 100% honest with our thoughts, fears and intentions. A luxury our opponents certainly do not share. And so, with that, I am officially launching both this aspect of our blog and my commitment to radical honesty.
I’m 24, I have an unbelievably great support network, and for much of the last few months, I was terrified. Terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make rent, terrified that I wouldn’t find work, terrified that my refusal to look for work outside of the environmental field would prove to be hubris. Terrified of failure. And truth be told, I’m still scared now. But as I write this I’m really excited as well.
I have teamed up with Daryn of the Green Majority, and we have cast ourselves into the world of full time environmentalism. I intend to continue this commitment to radical honesty throughout this venture and my career in general. (In case my parents read this -HI!-, we have secured a few projects that will keep us afloat at least to the end of 2013, so don’t worry about me). For the rest of you, thanks for reading! I intend to write a couple of these more personal posts a month and have a 6000 word essay that I’m working on a way to cut up into manageable chunks. It’s going to be a wild ride, and I look forward to sharing it with you all.