Why I've decided to take a break from online environmental advocacy

and why I will be able to do more when I'm back
(credit: Shutterstock AI on Shutterstock)
(credit: Shutterstock AI on Shutterstock)

While currently Southern Germany is experiencing floods, the importance of taking action toward a healthier planet becomes clear right in front of my eyes. These floods are caused by heavy rain, which last longer than usual because of changed climatic circumstances. These changed circumstances are caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as CO2. Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb heat radiated by the Earth’s surface. The high level of CO2 is caused by burning fossil fuels.
While the critical situation is happening here, I don’t need this reminder of the importance of living more environmentally friendly: since 2019, I have - every single day - made a positive difference, not only in my own life but also in others’ lives. So, if I’ve been doing this for so long and this is so important, why pause it? The brief answer: to be able to do more. And importantly, I won’t pause all my activities, only my online activities. Before I explain more, I’ll share how it all started and where I’m at now.

365 Sustainable Decisions Challenge

In 2019, I worked for a company that wanted to do things in a more environmentally friendly way. That is why they asked all employees to share ideas about what they could do better or differently. As I loved the initiative, I brainstormed ideas during my cycling holiday. One of the ideas was doing a 365 Sustainable Decisions Challenge. But as this Challenge was more suitable to do as a person than as a company, I decided to do this Challenge myself. So, shortly after my holiday, I started making my own daily life more environmentally friendly, every day for a year (and more, as I didn’t stop at 365).

Growing online community

As part of my Challenge, I shared my Sustainable Decisions on social media. For two reasons. First, I know that when others are following a Challenge, it is easier to keep going and it is not possible to skip a day. Second, when others want to make a positive difference in their daily lives but don’t know how, these ideas could be an inspiration. And boy, yes, did that set off! I finished the Challenge and thousands of people joined the journey. Some even started their own 365 Sustainable Decisions Challenge!
Here, I just completed my 365 Sustainable Decisions Challenge (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
Here, I just completed my 365 Sustainable Decisions Challenge (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)

Science communication

During this Challenge and while sharing my experiences, I noticed that questions came up such as “How can we measure the CO2 levels from millions of years ago?” As I have a scientific background, including a PhD, I decided to dig into scientific publications to find the answers. Once I found the answer, I shared it on social media as well. The first science communication post was born:
“How can ancient CO2 levels be measured?
E.g. from certain shells at the sea bottom.
These shells contain different types of boron.
The boron composition depended on the water acidity,
the acidity on the amount of dissolved CO2 in the water
and dissolved CO2 on CO2 in the air.”
In my first science communication post, I shared how we can measure ancient CO2 levels from sea shells (the picture was for decorative purposes only; credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
In my first science communication post, I shared how we can measure ancient CO2 levels from sea shells (the picture was for decorative purposes only; credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)

As I was limited by the length of an X-post (former Twitter), a community member suggested to write articles instead. I loved the idea and started writing articles on Medium. com. I have published 185 articles so far, and more are coming.

Supporting the United Nations

In parallel to my science communication and social media activities, I started supporting the United Nations as a member of the Task Force on Digitalization in Energy. I was asked to become an expert member because I’m not only an expert in environmental sustainability but also a cyber security expert; the work I did while I was still an employee and before I started my 365 Sustainable Decisions Challenge.

I am supporting the United Nations to inspire policymakers (credit: UNECE, published with permission)
I am supporting the United Nations to inspire policymakers (credit: UNECE, published with permission)

Dedicating myself to environmental sustainability

But a growing community and additional initiatives, such as science communication and supporting the United Nations, I quickly noticed that doing all this next to a full-time job would not be possible long-term. That is why I quit my job in October 2020 and became self-employed. This has been an excellent decision, as it has given me the freedom to work on initiatives that I feel make the biggest impact, independent of the financial return. But as sustainability also involves a solid financial basis, I at the same time had to make sure to earn a living in a new way. (I of course have to pay for my groceries, etc.). As my sustainability work does not earn me a living, I have worked on numerous freelance projects in parallel. Including – but not only – in the field of cyber security.

Why it is different now

So far, the freelance projects I have worked on have been relatively short. But recently, I decided to take on a long-term project: I am currently Head Trainer of a cyber-security course, which retrains job-seekers so that they become cyber-security experts as well. After the course, they will be able to find a job in this field, which is not only important for the participants but also for us: more experts are needed to make our digital world a safer place.
While this course is incredibly helpful for these job-seekers and society, it also allows me to continue my sustainability work: the course is 4 hours a day. And good news: all is going very well!

So why a pause?

While teaching this class only takes 4 hours a day, I still need a lot of time to prepare for these hours, especially because I am teaching all lessons for the first time. This means that currently, the time I need is much more than 4 hours a day; when I teach the same lesson a second time, I will need a lot less time to prepare. And what I didn’t expect: it costs my brain a lot more energy than I assumed, so I have little brain energy left to for example dig into complicated scientific publications.
So, I am pausing my online environmental sustainability advocacy to be able to do this teaching project very well. Once I have prepared all the lessons, I again have a lot more time and brain energy for my online sustainability work, including science communication, while having a stable financial basis. This means that this temporary pause will help me to do more for our planet in the future!
See you soon! (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
See you soon! (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)

In the meantime

As I’m not sure yet how long my pause will need to be (at least until the end of August 2024), I am happy to share resources you can look at in the meantime. I have shared a lot over the last 4.5 years, so there is enough to dig into while I am away. Here are some suggestions:

And while I am away, I won’t sit still. I will for example continue taking action by:
  • Going litter-picking in my neighborhood every week
  • Traveling by train or bicycle instead of flying or driving
  • Often eating vegetarian or vegan meals
  • Taking care of my health to be able to continue my science communication work as soon as possible
  • Producing as little waste as possible
  • Saving water by taking shorter showers and turning off the tap while soaping myself and my hair
  • Vermicomposting my organic waste
  • and many more
Take care and I look forward to being back as soon as possible!
  • Princess

    1 w

    You will be greatly missed, take care and best wishes.

    • Erlijn van Genuchten

      1 w

      @princess_nel_268 Thank you for your kind words and wishes!

    • Patrick Kiash

      2 w

      I will miss your educative articles a lot, they do inspire. All the best in your endeavors looking forward to learn more from you soon. Number of your actions you mentioned above from many that you will be doing are encouraging. Good luck!

      • Erlijn van Genuchten

        1 w

        @patrick_kiash thank you for your kind words Patrick! And on and in my book, you’ll find many articles (> 180 articles) / chapters to read in the meantime, so no need to wait till I’m back 👍🏻

      • Sarah Chabane

        2 w

        Teaching four hours per day is a lot! Especially considering all the other things you do! Take care Erlijn, you will be missed, but I look forward to reading you again 🤗💚

        • Erlijn van Genuchten

          2 w

          @sarah_chabane_874 Thanks a lot for your kind words Sarah, and I'm also looking forward to when I'm back!

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