In our instant gratification culture I can understand why environmentalism is not reaching the scale that we had hoped when the whole green fad started. We think short term here in America. This may be because we are such a young nation, or pop culture and media may cause it. Whatever the reason, we are who we are. We like free stuff, bigger is better, we think in quarters (not years), and we like to be comfortable and entertained. Though we may not think of these as our cultural values, they are part of our national personality.
How do you get a nation that does not like change and thinks very short term to make uncomfortable adjustments that they will probably see no return on? For many of us there is no prize for being green. There is no party when you become fully sustainable. Those of us who use the most resources have to make the biggest changes, but we feel the smallest payback. Those who use the least resources will often be strongly rewarded for small changes or the changes made by us privileged folks. The problem is, we are not in Bangladesh to see the flooding getting worse as sea level rises. We don’t know that less rainforest is leveled because we buy less beef.
As a modern girl, I think of these things in the context of a diet. I am not going to go on a diet and stick to it unless I see results. If my love handles are not going to get smaller when I am denying myself, then yes, I will have that piece of cake. By recycling, you do not see our trash dumps getting smaller. We don’t hear, feel, taste, touch or see the results of being green. We are making uncomfortable changes in the name of this abstract idea of “Sustainability.”
How do you convince people to change when all you have to convince them with is “Well, this stuff is super important and you may really regret it if you don’t.” I don’t know about you, but I am not too excited to join a team if all you can do is threaten me with what could happen if I don’t join your side. How do we make people understand their impact?
The truth is that this is a potentially catastrophic problem and we are going to need everyone to help fix it. We are playing with fire and blindly dousing ourselves in oil with our backs to the flame while we argue about whether or not we really started the fire. You have heard what could happen if we don’t cut our emissions, and if you have not you should pull out your phone or computer and look it up. We need to stop thinking short term, demanding more than we need and resisting positive changes. We need to be willing to learn.
This is another big problem with climate change. It is freaking complicated. I spend quite a bit of my free time watching TED.com videos, reading articles and books about climate change issues and my comprehension of the subject is still sadly lacking. A lot of the most important issues are buried under layers of science that most people do not understand. Luckily, at Tech, we are educated and do have lots of scientists who get it. Unfortunately, however, we are not the majority. Most people in our world are not educated and do not think in terms of aerosols, fertilizer run-off and LEED certifications.
We understand this stuff. We are geniuses. We need to lead by example as an institution, and educate at every opportunity. We need to support sustainable initiatives whenever we can and take our environmental impact into consideration in all of our systems and organization around campus from Greek houses to closing fume hoods.
We are doing great job of this already. The administration in this school wants to give the students what we want and they want to be environmentally responsible. All we have to do as students is ask them to make changes. You would be surprised how often what you want is delivered. This campus is so receptive to positive changes. Tech is already starting to set the bar high for green educational institutions in Georgia. But how do we further this movement? How do we convince people that recycling is important enough to wait to throw away that coke until you find a plastics recycling bin?
Some things are working, but they are moving us forward to slowly. We need to pick up the pace. We need to innovate and think outside the box. We can and will solve this problem, but I personally have not come up with the best way yet. Most of you reading this are smarter than me, so if you have any good ideas, and I know you do, let me know.