The shape of personal action: “I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle.”

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Mary Annaïse Heglar is a climate justice essayist and the director of publications at the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.

I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle (Vox)

Stop obsessing over your environmental “sins.” Fight the oil and gas industry instead.

I’m at my friend’s birthday dinner when an all-too-familiar conversation unfolds. I introduce myself to the man to my left, tell him that I work in the environmental field, and his face freezes in terror. Our handshake goes limp.

“You’re gonna hate me …” he mutters sheepishly, his voice barely audible over the clanging silverware.

I knew what was coming. He regaled me with a laundry list of environmental mistakes from just that day: He’d ordered lunch and it came in plastic containers; he’d eaten meat and he was about to order it again; he’d even taken a cab to this very party.

I could hear the shame in his voice. I assured him that I didn’t hate him, but that I hated the industries that placed him — and all of us — in the same trick bag. Then his shoulders lifted from their slump and his eyes met mine. “Yeah, ’cause there’s really no point trying to save the planet anymore, right?”

Snip to the end.

Here’s my confession: I don’t care how green you are. I want you in the movement for climate justice.

I don’t care how long you’ve been engaged in the climate conversation, 10 years or 10 seconds. I don’t care how many statistics you can rattle off. I don’t need you to be all-solar-everything to be an environmentalist. I don’t need you to be vegan-er than thou, or me, for that matter. I don’t care if you are eating a burger right this minute.

I don’t even care if you work on an oil rig. In some parts of the country, those are the only jobs that pay enough for you to feed your family. And I don’t blame workers for that. I blame their employers. I blame the industry that is choking us all, and the government that is letting them do it.

All I need you to do is want a livable future. This is your planet, and no one can advocate for it like you can. No one can protect it like you can.

We have 11 years — not to start but to finish saving the planet.

I’m not here to absolve you. And I’m not here to abdicate you. I am here to fight with you.

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