“It’s Easy Being Green” was the original title of this article. However, after I read an article in our campus newspaper, “Minor lifestyle changes obfuscate true climate change solutions,” I am tempted to alter my approach to environmental activism.
The author, Stephanie Jones, argues that although sustainable lifestyle choices are becoming more mainstream, the actual cumulative impact of these choices is negligible compared to the scale of climate change. She says,
Relative to the general population, I seem quite environmentally conscious because I am a vegetarian, I limit my car use and I recycle judiciously; if everyone in the country made identical adjustments, perhaps climate change would unfold at a slightly slower rate, but it would continue to unfold. Truly living in an environmentally responsible manner would require drastic changes in every facet of our lives — the way we eat, travel, dress, govern, communicate, educate, and create art. This is not about whether we should drive Priuses or Hummers: This is about whether we should drive cars at all.
Jones definitely has a point: I, and Environmental Studies major, often get caught up in the specifics of ideal daily actions and forget the need to change the infrastructure itself. So why don’t we address these larger questions? What stops us from going from Klean Kanteens to bikeable cities?
Minor and major lifestyle changes both require a shift in mindset, and minor lifestyle changes act as precursors to major lifestyle changes. Minor lifestyle changes have a twofold benefit: One, they reduce our environmental impact in some way, even if the reduction is quite small, and Two, they require a capacity for care and reflection on personal behavior. The reflective aspect is key if we expect to move into a time when we, as a whole society, not just an environmental subculture, are able to confront the question of “whether we should drive cars at all.”
However, we should be cautious against convincing ourselves that our minor lifestyle choices are “good enough.” It is easy to feel good about never using disposable cups, or turning off the lights when leaving a room, or taking shorter showers, but as Jones said, even the cumulative effect of these choices will not stop global warming. Systemic change is vital to reducing the impact of climate change. Fortunately, through encouraging minor lifestyle changes, we have begun to lay the groundwork for a society that values its environment enough to change its behavior on a large scale.
Keep changing your behavior, big or small. Do what you can right now. But please open your mind and open your heart to future actions; hopefully, a time will come when someone will ask you (or policy will require you) to make a drastic lifestyle change. Hopefully, your history in reflective change will allow you to understand the reason that you are being asked to live a less-convenient way of life. Hopefully, we can reverse climate change.