Ethos and Environmentalism


In school we learn that Ethos is a literary technique used by an author to present oneself as knowledgeable about a topic. A quick example of this is an author mentioning his credentials at the beginning of an essay. Suddenly the author seems much more knowledgeable about his given subject. In order to write with persuasion about any field, the author must first present himself or herself as an individual who understands the material. However, I find it difficult to speak on matters of the environment as the inevitable result by many readers is an immediate notion of tree-hugging hippy. Concepts of eco-philosophy and environmentalism are disregarded by many people as akin to a cult religion. (Bear in mind this essay comes from a high school senior with no salient credentials to pull upon besides my personal beliefs and experiences) Most of my dealings are with fellow people of my own age, who are much more engaged in other topics. In this setting, bring up the environment and one hears “hippy” mumbled under breath and sometimes mocking laughter. While it doesn’t affect my beliefs, this reaction makes Ethos a difficult form of persuasion to use when speaking on matters of global warming and endangered species; of mountains and rivers and forests and all things these areas entail.

Speak about the passion and energy in a recent football game and people automatically share in their own experiences of it and the emotion when they saw the championship team lose to the underdogs. This usually happens at the start of class on Monday mornings after an intense showing of Sunday Night Football.  If someone speaks up about their team and everyone knows he is a driven fan, heads turn and his position on the subject is ruminated on by the class.

In the same setting, mention a recent oil spill or gas leak and watch as eyes go blank. (Not 100% of the people will have the same reaction. There is a majority however.) If the general population is not taught about the implications of such a spill, why are they going to give the time of day to converse over the subject? In turn, why would they react to the person talking with respect in their field or knowledge?

The outspoken Bronco’s fan is known and listened to yet, his environmental fan counterpart is easily ignored. I say this is because the better part of my life has been spent acknowledging it. That ethos as an outspoken environmentalist is hard to produce.

I remember in the first day of my sixth grade orientation class at my new middle school, the class was tasked with going around the room and introducing their name and one unique thing about themselves.

“My name is Timothy and I am an enviromentalist.”

Back then, I didn’t truly understand the implications and meaning behind the statement, but what I did know, I identified myself with. The reaction from my classmates was less than spectacular. My first day of class and I was the oddball.

Six years later and in a sense I am still haunted by that day. The whispers and laughs and the teacher that didn’t explain what I meant when the “equestrian” in the class got her own definition and an identity. When I was given “someone who loves nature” versus “someone who rides horses” maybe I should have expanded.  Maybe my teacher didn’t know what more it meant, maybe she didn’t care to inform on the deeper implications, today I know I should have explained what it had meant to me. That I believe in supporting and fighting for our natural world because I know the information and facts that go unnoticed by most kids. I was disgusted by the meat industry and what they do and willingly produce, disgusted by the deforestation of forests and killing of coral reefs. My statement should have carried weight. Instead, nobody knew about it, nobody knew to respect it or identify it. The fact is, nobody taught them to care because nobody had taught them.

How can environmentalism hope to be respected when people don’t know the global and environmental implications of such a mode/philosophy/awareness of life? When I say I am an environmentalist, what is it that you think of? Regardless of the answer, the cold truth is this; people only respect that which they already understand.


3 thoughts on “Ethos and Environmentalism”

  1. > Bear in mind this essay comes from a high school senior with no salient credentials to pull upon besides my personal beliefs and experiences

    There’s another way to pull off the “appeal to ethos” besides stating your own credentials, and in academic contexts, it’s the preferred one: start off by establishing the context of what others have said about the topic. “Trump says that global warming is a Chinese conspiracy to hurt the American economy. In reality, every first-world country understands that it is an established fact, and has taken steps to try to change it, including…” Having established the context, you establish that YOU know something about it–you clearly know enough to establish the context. Now your audience has some reason to think that you are in a position to comment on the subject intelligently–and in an informed way, versus just having an (uninformed) opinion. High school student, or college professor–if you’re both aware of the same sources, it doesn’t matter which one you are.

    There’s a great book that is basically an explanation of how to do this, from a lot of angles. It’s called “They Say/I say.”


  2. Timothy,
    Just because you are a high school senior, doesn’t mean you have no credibility! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. From high school to college, most people don’t have some big revelation or change in character. You will be the same person. You knew in sixth grade that you cared about this planet, our home, and that value has and will continue to stick with you throughout your life. No, you aren’t a hippy. You might not even fit remotely anywhere near that social category. But anyone can be environmentally conscious. Regardless of age or experience. So keep being you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a meaningful comment! It just seems like among kids my age, the stereotypes tend to prevail when talking about nature. It is true that the outdoors has been big in my life for forever, I do hope that doesn’t change anytime soon. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

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