I was watching TV this week when I encountered an environmentalist character, this character was portrayed as a free loading, lazy ‘hippie’, now yes it was exaggerated, however it got me thinking about how the environmentalist movement has changed, yet is still seems to be defined by this hippie (and other negative) stereotypes. I have been guilty of labelling myself to fit into what I perceived to be the environmentalist movement and many people hold the name hippie as a medal of honour. But I think it is time we stop doing this to ourselves, these names are often used negatively, as a way of devaluing us as just some ‘lazy hippies’, it is an excuse to ignore, make fun of and in turn cheapen our entire field. I was recently at an environmental event regarding the protection of ancient rainforest on Vancouver Island, I overheard a passerby say ‘what are these damn hippies complaining about now’, damn hippies, a lot of people (not me) at this event have a PhD.
Every person I have met in the environmental and conservation field are educated, well-groomed, hard-working and tax paying citizens, certainly not the derogatory ‘dirty hippie’ portrayed in some aspects of the media and public. Perhaps I am over thinking it, maybe being a hippie is a medal of honour to wear for some people, but personally I think it is an outdated and false perception of environmentalists that needs to be altered. It is time we start looking seriously into how we are perceived, not only does the stereotype have the potential to negatively affect our work. But it may also be giving a poor impression to people who may be wanting to join or support us, but instead are put off because they do not fit what is seen as the ‘typical environmentalist’. We need a face lift to show that a person can be an environmentalist and live in the 21st century.
I do think the image is changing to a certain extent, however it is still hard to see in some aspects of the media an environmentalist represented as a sane, hardworking, ambitious adult as you do for other fields. Even in 2016 we are seeing this stereotype on TV and dealing with it at important scientific events, this shows that there is an us and them mentality towards us. This is troubling at a time when environmental issues need a united front.
To make it clear, if we say we need to save the whales, it is not for peace and love or to stick it to the man, it is because we have studied, researched and written peer-reviewed scientific journals showing whales to be keystone species in their habitat, and thus losing them will lead to a collapse of the ecosystem which in turn comes and has severe negative consequences for us. When we make a fuss about the need to protect ancient forests, it is not because we are ‘damn hippies’ who love to complain, it is because we know the complex ecosystem that builds during the thousands of years of ancient forest growth, and losing them in turn causes a loss of biodiversity, contamination of the water table, soil erosion and flooding to name a few.
So let us change our stereotype and stop labeling ourselves as lesser; we are not whiny stereotypes with our heads in the clouds; we are real, educated people who are fighting for a legitimate cause and this should be the face of environmentalism going forward.