Why Caring About the Environment Isn't Enough

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re likely aware of the devastating state of our environment right now. Our world, quite literally, is on fire, from the Amazon rainforest to the arctic.


Do you care?


If you’re reading this, it’s likely the answer is yes. If the answer is no, and the destruction of the beautiful creation we all depend on isn’t enough to care, you might consider looking at National Geographic’s reasons why you should care about the environment. 

So you care about the environment. Awesome! Now you can go share a bunch of articles on Facebook and Twitter about the terrible state of the environment then go back to drinking out of that plastic water bottle and living life as usual.

Well, maybe not so much. 

Let me illustrate this with a story. About a year ago, around the time of the release of the Warming Report from the International Panel on Climate Change, I became aware of how much of an emergency climate change is. For those who haven’t read the report, the IPCC summarizes the potential consequences of letting the planet warm to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Let me tell you - they aren’t good. And if we continue to do nothing to reduce our carbon emissions, we could reach that point by 2030.

That’s only 10 years away.


10. Years.


My initial reaction was fear. I was scared about what was happening to our planet, scared that we wouldn’t be able to turn things around. And for a while, that’s all there was.

Eventually, I started seeing and sharing articles on Facebook, hoping that would make things better. It didn’t. I still felt this gnawing fear and pressure to do something. I knew that my actions had to reflect my beliefs about the environment, but I thought I was doing all I could. Boy was I wrong.

While studying abroad in the UK, I took a sustainability class and my entire perspective shifted. I realized how much I could be doing as an individual to help fight climate change. As a result, I have been trying to shift my actions to better reflect what I learned. This included becoming a vegetarian, using shampoo and conditioner bars rather than plastic bottles, using reusable shopping bags, and carrying around a travel mug for coffee and tea. Though these things are small, they alleviate some of the discomfort I had because I was finally acting according to my values. I was finally practicing what I preach rather than simply dwelling on how terrible the current environmental state is.

Don’t get me wrong, the articles are important to raise awareness about the dire situation we are in. However, if we really want things to change, we have to take action.

One big question I get when talking about individual action is whether an individual can make a difference. By all means, YES! I realize that big businesses and corporations are the biggest culprits when it comes to polluting the environment, and changing them will have the greatest impact on slowing climate change. However, we as individuals have to change our own actions in order to help the economy and businesses shift to working with the environment rather than destroying it.

This power to shape the economy comes from our role as consumers. What we buy as consumers acts sort of like a vote. When we buy something, like plastic water bottles, we are telling that company or business that we like that product and want more of it. Thus, the company will make more plastic water bottles which then stay on our earth for over 400 years

In other cases, it’s important to consider what materials go into making a product. For example, palm oil has recently been implicated in the destruction of rainforests around the world, thus increasing the carbon emissions of many countries. The same can also be said for sugar cane, bananas, coffee, tea, and cattle ranching

There are many ways you can start to take action for the environment, but here are a few easy steps you can take today:


Use a reusable water bottle. Unless you live in an area with contaminated water (I’m sorry, Flint), just drink the dang tap water. And lucky for you, CMU has lots of water bottle refilling stations across campus.


Use a travel mug for coffee/tea. Most coffee places on campus offer a discount when you bring in your own mug. Starbucks offers a 10 cent discount, and Java City will only charge you for a small no matter what size you order. 


Use reusable sandwich bags. Forget those silly plastic, disposable Ziploc bags, and invest in reusable ones. My personal favorite are Nordic by Nature’s.


Use soap bars, face wash bars, shampoo bars, conditioner bars. Basically, when in doubt, choose the bars.


Recycle! If you live on campus, nothing is stopping you from dropping off your recycling in CMU’s huge recycling bins across campus. I’m just saying.


In short, you are extremely powerful in the fight for the environment. We are only going to win if we all start taking action together.


Are you in?