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Walla Walla, WA
Friday, December 8, 2023

Combating Environmental Nihilism

April 20, 2023
Austin Price

The Impact of Small Steps and Inspiring Action

Austin Price

The urge to help the environment can be overwhelming and complex. So, we need a realistic focus on simple solutions for healthy change. The goal is not to “save the world,” but to take action that will bring immediate and positive change. 

Author Alan Pratt in his exhaustive article on nihilism wrote, “Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence.” [1]  

Pratt explained further, “As [Nietzche] predicted, nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 20th century has been pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror.” [2] 

This perspective as an environmentalist would be crippling. If a person believes that these problems are too big to tackle individually, they will give up. However, individual effort is all people can give. Focus on what you can give now to have a meaningful impact. If people give up trying, they are watching the destruction instead of combating it.  

In a video entitled “Against Nihilism,” author John Green said:  

Now, of course, none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. The sun is still going to turn into a red giant and boil our oceans away, but we don’t live in the grand scheme of things. I think there is meaning in human life because there is meaning in us and how we are bound together. There is meaning in loving and being loved. And in hearing and being heard.” [3] 

Later, Green explained how author Richard Wright’s words helped him realize why hope matters: “I would hurl words into this darkness, wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” [4] 

Contrary to Wright, skeptics promote inaction. Pratt wrote, “Because they denied the possibility of certainty, skeptics could denounce traditional truths as unjustifiable opinions.” [5] 

Desolate Beach. A beach in Iceland where no other people are in sight and nothing can be heard except the crashing of the waves. Photo by Jack Millard.

In the environmental discussion, the key is to understand the truth of the matter. There are problems; there is air pollution and climate warming. If there is no awareness of a problem, then there will be no progress.  

However, combating a lack of awareness is tricky. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were surprising discoveries with lower air pollutants. Carol Rasmussen, Earth science writer for NASA, wrote, “Nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the presence of sunlight can react with other atmospheric compound[s] to create ozone, a danger to human, animal, and plant health.” During COVID-19, there were lower levels of ozone. However, Rasmussen pointed out, “By reducing NOx emissions … the pandemic also limited the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself of another important greenhouse gas: methane.” Additionally, “methane grew by 0.3% in the past year [2020] — a faster rate than at any other time in the last decade.” [6] 

Other common beliefs of helping the environment can bring harm without full awareness. For example, in an article by Morgan McFall-Johnsen, he wrote about the issues with not only plastic, but paper bags: 

Paper bags degrade much faster, but turning trees into pulp may require more energy and produce more carbon emissions than the production of petroleum-based plastic bags. A 2011 analysis found that a paper bag had to be reused at least four times to bring its global-warming potential down to that of a high-density polyethylene plastic bag.   

In another example, McFall-Johnsen wrote about plastic straws. He said, “Straws make up less than 1% of the plastic we dump in the ocean. Banning them is a tiny step in a larger effort to curb plastic use, rather than a solution by itself.” [7] 

Changing bags and banning straws are extremely small steps in the grand scheme of things, but we must start caring for the environment somewhere.  

An article on outlined education and awareness of climate problems is the key to combating the challenges we face collectively: 

Education can encourage people to change their attitudes and behavior; it also helps them to make informed decisions …  Knowing the facts helps eliminate the fear of an issue which is frequently colored by doom and gloom in the public arcana.”  [8] 

We need to know the problem and focus on the simple things we can do individually. We don’t need to feel guilty about not acting in grand ways to help save the environment. It’s far more important to focus on how we can help our environment now.  

The site “” lists six simple calls to help the environment: Plant trees, protect public lands, host a cleanup, grow a community garden, help wildlife, and join a movement. [9] A similar site,, has more than twenty-five ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Some advice given is to be aware of your water usage and eating locally produced food. [10] 

Sarah Francis, in her article on, gave the stories of 12 individuals who have made a difference in the environment through simple action. To mention a few: Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti is an “award-winning Kenyan environment activist . . . [who] founded the Green Generation Initiative which has planted over 30,000 tree seedlings in Kenya and encourages young people to discover and care for nature.” Leah Namugerwa celebrated her 15th birthday by planting 200 trees and “started a petition to enforce a plastic bag ban in Uganda.” Lastly, Lesein Mutunkei, from Kenya. “[E]very time he scores a goal with his football team, Lesein has vowed to plant 11 trees - one for each team player.” Mutunkei further stated, “You are never too small or too young to make an impact. Everything you do, however small, counts.” [11]  

Don’t give up on the environment; your efforts can make the impact of a lifetime.  



  1. Pratt, Alan. (n.d.) Nihilism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Vlogbrothers. (2022, September 20). Against Nihilism [Video]. YouTube.  
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Pratt, Alan. (n.d.) Nihilism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  
  6. Rasmussen, Carol. (April 14, 2023). Emission reductions from pandemic had unexpected effects on atmosphere.  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 
  7. Mcfall-Johnsen, Morgan. (Sep 17, 2019). 9 things that aren’t helping the environment as much as you think they are, from recycling to carbon offsets. Insider Inc.  
  8. Education is key to addressing climate change. (n.d.). United Nations.  
  9. 6 Volunteering ideas to help the environment. (2022, April).  
  10. 25+ Ways to reduce your carbon footprint. (n.d.). Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty.  
  11. Francis, Sarah. (2021, September 15). 12 climate activists inspiring us to fight climate change. International Rescue Committee.  



  1. Desolate Beach. A beach in Iceland where no other people are in sight and nothing can be heard except the crashing of the waves. Photo by Jack Millard.  
  2. Tree Leaves. A yellow tree enjoying the spring vibes of Walla Walla and showing its color. Photo by Austin Price.  
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