A fight for nature

Environmentalists share their passion for nature and activism

Charlotte Chui

LIFESTYLE

When junior Trudie Ngo first stumbled upon environmental activist and entrepreneur Lauren Singer’s videos in early 2018, her reaction was one of disbelief. Through her blog and YouTube channel “Trash is for Tossers,” Singer — who Ngo now calls “the guru of zero waste living” — advocates for environmental activism by educating her viewers and providing tips on how to live a zero-waste lifestyle. Zero-waste living entails producing no waste — specifically referring to trash that will be sent to a landfill, meaning that recyclable and compostable items are an exception — to reduce a person’s carbon footprint and work towards a sustainable future. 

“Initially, I was like, ‘She’s crazy,’” Ngo said. “Because I was like, ‘Wait, you’re picking out things, making sure you’re not consuming any plastic at all,’ which is really hard, convenience-wise for a lot of people. But then over time, I understood why it was so important — it’s accumulative. And in one lifetime, you can create so much waste, but if you start adopting this sort of lifestyle, you reduce it a lot.”

Singer’s videos tugged at Ngo’s already existing love for nature — fostered through her camping trips with a leadership camp — and inspired her to take action too. Like her role model Singer, Ngo strives to achieve a zero waste lifestyle and reduce her carbon footprint. 

Ngo updates her Facebook friends about zero-waste lifestyle. Photo courtesy of Ngo.

Ngo approached her transition into this lifestyle gradually, taking it week by week. One week, she eliminated single-use plastic straws. The next, she made her own deodorant instead of buying it. Another week, she reassessed her closet to make sure that her clothing choices were sustainable, deciding to buy pieces secondhand or borrow them from her mom’s closet instead. Week by week, the zero waste lifestyle spread through various aspects of her life. 

 

Even with her gradual transition into the zero waste lifestyle, Ngo says she still faced difficulties, making occasional slip-ups. 

“When life is moving so fast, you don’t want to just stop and make sure that you recycle,” Ngo said. “At times, [it] can be very inconvenient and it’s okay to mess up sometimes. It’s a lifestyle, like healthy eating, where you do it at a moderate level throughout your life — but you’re going to mess up sometimes and you’re going to splurge on junk food but you’re going to make mistakes with it sometimes and I think it’s okay.”

Through zero-waste living, Ngo hopes to inspire those around her to do the same by setting an example. During this process, however, she frequently encounters those who believe that zero waste living is ineffective. Regardless, she feels that she is, in her own way, doing her part in the fight for nature — and because of that, she proudly calls herself an activist. 

“How I see it is if everyone adopted this kind of ideal, just imagine how much waste we would reduce,” Ngo said. “It just starts from one person, and if you can do that, then you can inspire another person and everyone would start reducing. It’s kind of like the plastic bag movement where one person — after taking out one bag or just using your reusable bags — if one person adopts it, it’s not that big of a deal. But if everyone starts making small changes, then you can create a huge change.”

 

POLITICAL

Like Ngo, junior Rachel Millar also wears the title of activist with pride. Her interest in activism stemmed partially from the values instilled in her throughout her life, having been raised in a family that maintained environmentally friendly lifestyles, but most notably, it came from the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump. Trump’s rhetoric and beliefs against climate change stood in contrast to Millar’s and the 97 percent worldwide scientific consensus that confirmed climate change’s occurrence. It was this disconnection that ultimately fostered Millar’s passion for active environmentalism. 

“It made me mad,” Millar said. “It made me so mad that the president of our country is so ignorant that he just thinks climate change is absolutely fake. Not only is that not a good role model to have so high up in our government, but also by him ignoring that and maybe confirming other people’s thoughts or beliefs that climate change isn’t real, then that’s putting our actual climate in more danger.”

Millar sees herself as an avid environmentalist. She says her love for activism comes from her love of being outisde in nature. Photos courtesy of Millar.

Sparked by this public and political skepticism of climate change, Millar has embarked on her own form of activism. She recycles, composts and uses metal straws instead of plastic ones — all in hopes of enacting small-scale change from her household. But she says these small actions are just the beginning of her role as an environmentalist. Reflective of where her own passion for environmentalism started, her interest lies in the political realm of activism. As time passes, she hopes to broaden her knowledge and perhaps pursue a field that combines politics with climate issues. 

To start this off, Millar is currently taking AP Environmental Science, a subject dedicated to exploring many of the topics that Millar herself feels strongly about, such as ecosystems, biodiversity and climate change. By taking this class, Millar hopes to educate herself on the most pressing environmental issues and figure out how she can help. She believes that the education she receives is the foundation for future activism. 

“[Activism] all starts with people getting the basis of education, understanding what it’s caused by, what the issues are and how you can help,” Millar said. “Then, those people will all grow up to be scientists, politicians.”

 

EDUCATION

Biology teacher Lora Lerner’s own form of environmental activism — teaching — began with both her love and knowledge of nature. However, Lerner says that she didn’t necessarily have a strong connection to nature at first. 

Growing up in a suburb near Long Beach with a less environmentally inclined family, she didn’t have much exposure to nature, outside of parks and occasional beach visits. That is, until college, where she joined a backpacking club and hiked in the woods for the first time. As a biology major, Lerner also found herself surrounded by many peers who were passionate about environmentalism, eventually discovering that the more she learned about the environment, the more deeply she felt about it.

This manifested in one of Lerner’s motivations for becoming a teacher — the hope that by educating others about these issues, they would feel more strongly about them as well. Throughout her course curriculum, Lerner ties biological concepts to real world applications, such as by discussing adaptation and mitigation in relation to climate change, hoping to instill a sense of significance in her students about what they learn in class.

“There are real problems in the world that we could use this information [to solve] — otherwise, it’s just information,” Lerner said. “To me, what makes it valuable and interesting, the reason I want to work on it every day and every year for my life is because I feel like we can use it to solve problems. [I] can take almost everything we’re learning and turn it back to like, ‘Okay, there’s this problem in the world. We could use this information to solve it.’”

Lerner acknowledges that where a passion for environmentalism stems from extends past education alone and — similar to her own collegial backpacking experiences — requires exposure to nature as well. 

“You can have it in your head, or you can have it in your heart and in your gut,” Lerner said. “I know there was a time for me where I knew it intellectually, but I’ve gotten to a point where it’s in my heart and in my gut, like I feel it, and I think that’s in the end what makes people change. It’s one thing to know it rationally; it’s another to feel it. And I think that to feel it, most people need to have exposure [to] the beauty of nature because it’s a visceral, emotional thing.””

— science teacher Lora Lerner

For Lerner, environmentalism as a result of appreciating nature’s beauty or as a necessity for human survival doesn’t fully encapsulate the moral imperative of the cause — the sense of urgency and mankind’s responsibility to protect nature. Lerner believes that for this to happen, more people need to view environmentalism as a higher priority. 

“I just don’t think that most people grasp that all that other stuff that they care about — whatever it is, if it’s economic or political issues — that ultimately, even if we disagree on these political or economic issues, we have to deal with this physical reality,” Lerner said. “How can we meet our political and economic goals without sacrificing nature to do it? Environmental issues are very much tied up with social justice issues, very much tied up with economic issues [and] they really aren’t separated. Fundamentally, people need to see the environment and nature and maintaining that as a higher priority.”