In high school I was in a club called S.A.V.E., which stood for “Students Against Violating the Environment.” It was an earnest group that fully believed we, alone, could save the world from environmental destruction. That was in the mid-1990s, when acid rain was the crisis. 

But when I look back on that time, I don’t think so much about the issues. Instead, my memory jumps to sitting on the tailgate of a recycling truck with my friends, as it made a slow crawl through Missoula’s back alleys. Picking up those bins of aluminum and plastic felt good because we were doing good work for our community, laughing and enjoying our time together.

As years passed it became harder to find the drive to volunteer for such things. Cynicism is debilitating, and environmental issues are so vast. In college, I learned about first-world fatigue, where even the kindest most caring person will see a problem and look away. Because it’s easier. Because they can. And part of that fatigue is rooted in only seeing solutions that feel like joyless deprivation.

I know I was more naive back in high school. The world was more complicated than I knew but I also had an unfettered sense that the solution was not only in my reach, but fulfilling, and I don’t think that part is untrue. So many businesses, artists, and everyday individuals continue to seek creative ways to find harmony with the ecosystem.

Wendell Berry, the environmental activist and essayist, once wrote, “The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

It’s this that motivates me: Vigilance is necessary, but fear gets us nowhere. Environmental stewardship can be—and, in fact, must be—an act of joy that we experience together.