Environmental gatekeeping against individuals can be one of the biggest impediments from prompting collaborative change. It deters people from joining the cause environmental activists are trying to bring to the masses; almost as if there are rules to be able to call yourself an environmentalist.
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A perfect eco-activist is vegan, zero-waste, does not buy fast-fashion, and does not fly. While these are expectations that the environmentalist community has established, it does not mean that everyone must follow their journey by the same rulebook. Here are some examples of what gatekeeping may sound like:
“How can you buy in fast-fashion brands if you can buy sustainably?”
Although the most sustainable clothing you have is in your wardrobe, sustainable clothing stores can be an expense and are not always size-inclusive. According to the World Bank, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. While it continues to be one of the biggest polluting industries, there is yet a lot of nuances in understanding how accessible other sustainable options are.
“How can you be an eco-activist, and still fly?”
Many conservationists carry out important research with local communities and must travel to conserve habitats and species. This is a chance to call out massive corporations and people destroying the habitats in the first place.
“You can’t be an environmentalist if you are not vegan”
This sort of statement invalidates the disparity in food access between privileged and marginalized communities. It also negates the fact that many individuals suffer pre-existing health conditions or have certain health demands that could not be met on a vegan diet. Veganism does not necessarily equate to sustainability.
“How can you call yourself a conservationist if you don’t even have the scientific facts to back you up?”
Not every single individual that advocates for environmentalism use science to justify why the health of our Earth is worth saving. Not everyone is well versed in science, and it is very privileged to assume so. We certainly need scientists but we also need social justice campaigners and activists.
To bring about environmental awareness and education on climate change to the masses, we need to fixate less on perfectionism and more on collaboration. Although individual action can be an empowering form of partaking in this movement we must be aware of the optics of gatekeeping, all the while we see only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of GHG emissions. We must keep companies accountable and understand that the capitalistic system we live in uses perfectionism to hoard power to keep individuals out of the environmental movement.