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Opinion: Gatekeeping Environmentalism is More Harmful Than You Think
The controversy and its breeding ground on social media.
September 7, 2021
We’ve all heard them. The nagging voices of Instagram influencers telling us we can’t use any single-use plastic again and the YouTube celebrities who guilt-trip their audiences for buying from fast fashion brands.
On the surface, these efforts to make their impressionable viewers more environmentally friendly are seen as a positive change for our struggling planet, however, these mentalities are often dangerous and unrealistic for what the average person can achieve. Sometimes they even perpetuate ableism and fail to understand socio-economic differences from person to person.
For example, many sustainability influencers insist on only utilizing reusable straws, claiming there is no excuse to use a plastic straw. Not only is this an unrealistic expectation for the average person; it is an even more unrealistic expectation for many disabled people.
Due to allergies, motor-planning delays, and numerous other reasons, many disabled people can’t use reusable straws or at least need plastic straws available to them. In “Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible,” autism activist Lei Wiley-Mydske adds, “[They’re] not asking companies that manufacture straws to come up with a version that works for us.” A plastic straw ban is harmful to disabled people. Plastic straws should be available on request for anyone who needs them; and not something to be shamed for using.
Additionally, some environmentalist influencers claim that buying from fast fashion is simply inexcusable due to thrift stores being cheaper and sustainable brands being available online. There are a few problems with these kinds of statements. Foremost, it assumes that all people live near a thrift store, can walk or drive to said store, and can find items that fit them. This simply isn’t possible for everyone.
Many people around the world don’t have cars, walkable neighborhoods, or even the time to search through a thrift store to find their correct sizes. Although sustainable brands are a good option for people with a larger spending budget, for the average person, the amount of money they would spend on clothes at these stores is far too much. Buying ethically is great, but if it’s impossible for you or a difficult endeavor, it’s not a requirement to living a more sustainable life.
Overall, environmentalism isn’t a competition. You can’t compare yourself to influencers who have money and time to spend to create a sustainable lifestyle (which is probably manufactured for the internet anyway). Enforcing this “all or nothing” mentality will only spark more arguments and slow real change.
All you can do is compare your current actions to the opportunities you have available to you and change what you do little by little to create a positive impact on our planet. And remember, corporations are the big polluters here-and you’re not responsible for fixing what they’ve done.
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”