At times, the dialect surrounding our environmental crisis can be frustrating. The questions all seem to be so big: How can we get countries to agree on treaties that will make an impact?; What policies are the best way to reduce our carbon footprint in America?; How can we make sure that corporations are motivated enough to make the changes that are necessary? It’s easy to get caught up in these looming questions and feel like we will never find a solution to our issues, that we cannot make any valuable change to help the planet. But, we should not forget that climate change is not the only issue that we face and that our individual efforts to be more environmentally conscious matter. If the majority of our environmental issues stem from overconsumption, each of us contribute in some sense – and should try to make a change for the better.
What most people don’t realize is that environmental problems are inherently people problems. Most environmentalists don’t care about the environment only for its intrinsic value – they also recognize how degrading the earth is harmful to people. Overconsumption means more factories, more smog, less clean water and ultimately, more harm to the people who cannot afford to move away from these issues. Climate change means rising sea levels, humid temperatures and inhabitable places for humans – and that comes after we have ruined the habitats of thousands of other species. Being eco-conscious doesn’t mean you are radical, or a tree hugger, it means that you are actively aware of the ways in which your consumerism impacts those around you.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ISTOCK
When your peers are eco-conscious and bring their own silverware to the EC, do meatless Mondays, bring their own cup to Peets, walk to Stop and Shop instead of driving or don’t support fast fashion, I’d argue that they have the right idea. These changes do make a difference. One load of drying your clothes is the equivalent to turning on 225 light bulbs for an hour, according to the Seattle Times. You could save that much energy if you air-dried your clothes next time you went home to do laundry for the weekend. If you eat one less hamburger this week, you could save 460 gallons of water or more, according to the United States Geological Survey. When you add these changes up, they matter. And it is not about adopting a completely waste-free and vegan lifestyle tomorrow, it’s about being more conscious about what exactly we are consuming and why. Making small changes where and when you can is just as impactful as large changes because sustaining small changes is easier in the long run.
It is important to point out the ability to choose what you buy and from where is a privilege—but so is overconsumption. Those who are making the most negative impact on the earth are those who are able to be conscious of what they are consuming. Not everyone can afford to buy reusable grocery bags to bring to the store or worry whether or not their vegetables are grown locally, but if you can, you should.
So where you are able, I challenge you in the next week to research one change you could make to be more sustainable. How ethical is your favorite store, and where could you shop if it’s not quite up to your standard? Do you need to buy everything on Amazon, or could you walk to Walgreens? The point is, we have given in to a type of consumerism where we buy things almost without thinking about how it was made, and it's time for us to reverse this.
There most definitely need to be policies and commitments from governments and large corporations to be even more environmentally conscious than us. But taking your personal responsibility seriously is a vital first step that we can all take individually and together.