What is a Tree Hugger?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2019
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A tree hugger is someone who promotes environmental causes, believing that humans should take an active role in protecting the environment and advocating for sustainable use of the environment. This term actually originally emerged as a piece of derogatory slang, but it was later adopted by environmentalists to refer to themselves. When used self-referentially, people usually use the term in a somewhat joking way, poking fun at themselves to make people feel more comfortable with the causes they support.

This term emerged to describe environmentalists who were active in the anti-logging movement. Logging proponents sometimes suggested that if environmentalists liked trees so much, they should go hug them, and some environmentalists did just that, linking arms around trees to prevent loggers from taking them. Over time, the term came to be used more generally to anyone who promoted sustainable environmental practices, not just a member of the anti-logging movement, and the modern tree hugger may not necessarily have literal tree hugging experience.


Tree huggers tend to be particularly focused on preserving nature and wilderness areas, arguing that these areas should be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations, and the use of the animals and plants which inhabit them, though they may be interested in other environmental causes as well. Preserving natural areas is viewed as an environmentally friendly practice because it promotes the sequestering of carbon, and helps to keep the climate stable. Environmentalists point out that preserving forested regions has immediate benefits in addition to long term ones, and these benefits may outweigh the use of the forest for timber, intrusive recreation, or development.

One organization which promotes sustainability has even adopted the slang term in its title. TreeHugger promotes sustainable design, and provides resources for readers who want to learn about various ways in which they can “go green,” adopting sustainable practices to conserve the environment. This use of the term is an example of the fun-loving adoption of “tree hugger” by people who formerly experienced the use of the term as an insult.

In some regions, the terms “hippie” and “tree hugger” are sometimes used interchangeably, along with the pejorative “dirty hippie.” When these terms are used as epithets, they are often meant to describe people with values which are viewed as naïve, obstructionist, or simply irritating. Tree huggers often oppose developments and exploitation of natural resources, much to the frustration of people who profit from such activities, and terms like “tree hugger” are among the more tame insults hurled during heated discussions about such issues.


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Post 4

@ChickeLover - I love the whole tree hugger tshirt reference, that was pretty funny. Aside from that, I think that you put it quite well when you say that tree huggers are out to save those who cannot speak for themselves and that LEED certified designers (or sustainability) is/are geared more towards working WITH the environment. It might seem a little confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense!

Post 3

@gameaddicted - I am actually a LEED certified designer and there are several different aspects to it than just putting on that tree hugger t-shirt if you know what I mean. Being LEED certified means you focus, really, on the livability and the design in relation to the environment. Often times you will work with the environment's natural abilities in order to achieve a cohesive design.

Being a tree hugger means you are just out to SAVE the planet through eco-consciousness rather than try to work WITH the planet to live in harmony. It is much like the aspect of pro life, pro choice in that you are speaking up for things and animals that cannot speak for themselves. I hope that helps you to better understand and visualize things.

Post 2

@abiane - I definitely get where you're coming from, but I think the entire tree hugger project is really more evident now than ever. As the article mentions towards the end, sustainability is a form of being a tree hugger (to put it in weird wording). But in that case, designers who are LEED certified - could they be considered tree huggers?

Post 1

The phrase "tree hugger" was really big in the late sixties and early seventies simply because of the activist movements that began. Things like feminism and the "hippie" era are what really brought about that independence and free thinking. Hippies were sometimes considered a little as tree huggers because of their free and radical thinking. The movement came from the Vietnam War and all of that stuff at the time. If you want an example, think of Forest Gump and all the stories you hear about people breaking into labs in the sixties and seventies in order to break the test animals out and free them. It's not really saving the planet, but it's the same aspect.

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