Environmentalism is Both Pro-life and Pro-choice

ACES leaders describe the social and political balance needed to fight for our climate and its creatures.
Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash
Published on
May 20, 2022
Allies and Partners
The Daily News of Newburyport

Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Labels can be misleading. For instance, the terms pro-life and pro-choice may seem antithetical. However, environmentalism is pro-life, in support of clean water, clean air and clean drinking water while it’s also pro-choice because it supports having a choice of cleanly produced foods, being able to avoid polluted air due to traffic jams, and having the option of taking a train to work.

Most people agree that choice is good; sustainable life is good. The real question is how to apply those values in both personal and societal contexts.

For good or ill, politics and our civic institutions are the only way we mediate those conflicts by seeking to find “common ground” or at least a tenuous peace.

That means that regarding environmental strategies and actions, we must make room for personal choice while clearly defining things we must do to save mankind’s place on earth. People will want to fly, travel, and drive fast cars. The key for environmentalists is to concede the right to choose while creating overall policies that aid climate. Even simple rules like auto emissions inspections, gas MPG standards, or banning certain pesticides represent such policies. Environmentalists must be politically aware participants in the public square to get these kinds of ideas enacted.

As one team member noted, “When I was a first-semester freshman in college in the ‘60s, my humanities professor posed a question that has stayed with me. ‘What are the ethical choices mediating the boundaries between the individual and the state?’” In times of societal stress, this question resurfaces as a starting point for formatting ideas and policy preferences.

The Vietnam War divided the country largely along generational lines. Ultimately, people took to the streets, organized, and voted. It was messy and contentious but the country needed to have those debates in order to clarify its values within a post-war new world.

Now is a similarly contentious time with issues of war, climate change, racism, gender, poverty, and ecology. Each is intensely “small p” political in that they affect people in their daily lives. It may help us if we revisit history for guidance. In Ancient Greece, civic political life was not optional. The Athenians had a word for those who refused to participate in public affairs: “idiotes.” Really!

"An existential threat to mankind"

So, let’s take that Greek ideal of democratic civic participation to heart to cope with our problems in 2022. We are now faced with dire global warming and climate change accompanied by widespread species extinction. That’s a big thing, an existential threat to mankind.

Environmentalists want to solve these problems and I hope you are one of them. It may be messy but our best choice is to participate in civic debate. It will require that we tease out and formulate specific proposals, and vocally and respectfully present them to our fellow citizens. Our only choice is to persuade, not just preach, about climate and the environment. We need to be pro-active in communications to create positive, reinforcing images that help people say “yes” to climate-friendly ideas and actions.

We must communicate all our climate concerns to the public in ways that honor healthy individual choices. As happened with the Women’s Reproductive Rights Rally this past week in Newburyport, we must speak up in the public square. Collectively, we want to persuade the 9,848 women and 8,229 men of Newburyport and the 330 million mostly female souls in our nation to move quickly and cooperatively in the direction of policies that protect the Earth and its creatures.

If we care about the earth, we must work to craft doable options for the public at large and educate people about the urgency of changing some of their ways.

Data alone will not be enough for individuals to make the best choices about actions needed for the well-being of all species. We need emotions and joy in our plans too. We must nurture butterflies and plant trees as well as the ideas that will sustain future generations.

This column was coordinated by ACES youth corps member, Caleb Bradshaw. To share any comments or questions, please send an email to To learn more about ACES and its Youth Leadership Initiative, visit website


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