Environmentality: Loving nature is not enough

Theoretical concern about climate change is not the same as taking action to stop it

As an international student coming from Germany, where people tend to be very rigid in their beliefs, one thing that I truly and honestly love about this country is the open-mindedness and tolerance for ideas we may disagree with. However, if a full grown, adult person can deny replicated and verified scientific evidence about climate change and still make it into high political positions in this country, this tolerance is exceeding the acceptable limit.

With climate change deniers holding political office, the pullback of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement was frustrating but expected. Large-scale changes in favor of environmental protection and sustainability are surely not expected in the coming years. However, I tell myself that there is still a rising interest in sustainability at the level of the individual. After all, Vanderbilt claims to be a sustainable campus, and all the highly intelligent and well-educated students here should be aware of the significance of climate change.

And, surely, I claim that most Vanderbilt students are aware of climate change… but on a theoretical level. For most people, it seems to be something we learn about in class but fail to connect to our own reality. But the real effects are as visible as ever: heatwaves leading to wildfires in California, severe storms causing floods in Florida and Texas, etc. Aren’t these the climate change related issues we learned about in school? As scary as it may be, we now are feeling the effects of our self-destructive lifestyles on this planet.

Sure, climate change is a severe problem that is so much harder to wrap our heads around than our own daily struggles, like getting into the bowl line at noon before everyone else does. But aren’t we here at Vanderbilt to become the leaders, CEOs and engineers who are going to design life-changing machines and devices? Aren’t we the people who are going to make a change in this world? I frequently hear people express their love for nature and complain about climate change, but few people reflect their statements in their daily actions.

Behavior reflects attitude. I believe that I can make a change in this world, but I can only do so if my behavior supports what I believe in. I am that annoying person who asks people to turn the light and air conditioning off when they leave the room, to turn off the car while waiting in the parking lot. I try to only put food on my plate that I am actually going to eat, and I bike even when it’s raining instead of taking the car. I did not grow up with limited resources, but I certainly grew up in a way that taught me to value them. To be fair, while living on campus, it is hard to think about water, energy and food as limited resources. Everything is constantly available in large amounts. And during our lifetime, we are probably not even the ones who are going to be affected by the scarcity of resources. But we certainly want our children and grandchildren to live in an environment with enjoyable circumstances.

To achieve great things, we have to start somewhere. And the easiest place to start is our own behavior. Do I think that turning off the light before leaving the room will save the planet? No. But imagine every single person on this planet turning off the light when it is not needed. Even if that is not going to change the fate of this planet either, it will certainly have a positive impact, even if it’s a small one. These tiny environmentally-conscious actions do collectively add up to a larger environmental impact known as micro-sustainability. In short: being green, even in the smallest ways, is worth it.

Minimizing our importance as mere individuals is not the way to go to achieve change. We are Vanderbilt students. We are great thinkers. But we have to take action as well. It’s not about knowing that recycling is important; it’s about actually recycling. It’s not about being aware that animal products are bad for the environment; it’s about cutting back on animal products. It’s about putting what we know into practice rather than leaving the job to someone else.

It is so easy to get hung up on the fancy literature, problem sets and lab reports that dominate our college lives, but we cannot lose our sense of reality. Being in college may seem like living in a bubble, but the world out there is real. And it is on us to take care of it. Not next year, not after we graduate. Now.