Environment isn’t a fad to be cared about two days of the year

By Chelsea Whitton

Slowly but surely my own consumption choices are contributing to climate change – and believe me, this revelation isn’t far fetched. Yesterday, I threw away two coffee cups, a brown paper bag, endless paper towels from my bag which served me as tissues, a paper plate, and to top it off, I drank from two plastic water bottles. Oh yeah, and I ran the water in the sink while I brushed my teeth.

It doesn’t seem like too much does it? Add in the following day’s two coffee cups, a paper plate, a couple of water bottles and a self-admitting unnecessarily long shower and there it is – the lack of a ‘green initiative’ on a personal level and a formula for hypocrisy – which many people’s daily decisions equate into.

And no – today didn’t involve hugging a tree, in case you were wondering.

This time in March we are in-between the passing of “World Water Day” on March 22 and upcoming Earth Day on April 22. The problem is that these awareness days are a fleeting remembrance of the importance of preserving the environment around us.

Listen, when ‘environmentalists’ flock together to pick up trash alongside roads for a couple hours on Earth Day this is an ideal, a prospective image for what things should be, but not what they are, the rest of the 364 days of the year. Of course, after Earth Day, people go back to their gas-guzzlers, their energy absorbing homes and lifestyles, and forget their simple earth-chomping habits that could be changed. People consistently neglect to turn faucets off entirely, shut the lights off when they leave the room, to unplug unused appliances, to turn down heat, and people definitely forget to recycle.

Did you know your phone charger, if plugged into an outlet, still uses energy even if your phone isn’t charging? Shutting your laptop off saves energy and money, and as a result it ends up saving the University’s electric spending, which dictates how expensive UMass students’ bills become each year.

Instead of waiting for the elevator to take you up to the third floor, take the stairs. Shut the water off when you brush your teeth and recycle papers and newspapers. In the dorms, take time to separate bottles, paper and actual trash. There are endless ways in which to consciously cut down consumption on the day-to-day. It merely takes a conscious effort.

What we do here at UMass, what we consume and throw away, doesn’t just affect the air we breathe and the water we drink. Do you think the glaciers rapidly melting in South America are an effect of its continental border’s environmental problems?

Know this, environmental degradation knows no border. Focusing on the problem in a hyper-local perspective is a preliminary step in tackling global environmental standards. We have a responsibility and can’t just leave it up to high-emitting corporations and ‘tough’ legislation.

My most recent environmental woes began with a simple toss of a water-bottle into a shrub outside the studio arts building. This act of littering sparked a crazed idea that some way, somehow if people didn’t throw their belongings out of vehicles or while walking, if students and faculty kept their actions and our campus classy, than UMass may able to act together with our own green initiative of personal responsibility. If more people in this community showed they cared by not trashing the campus, we could create a level of pressure to respect the surrounding environment that all community members would be more inclined to follow.

The person I witnessed throwing the water-bottle into the shrubbery wasn’t a late-night tippler. Instead, it was one of UMass’ very own UMPD officers patrolling the Sunderland (30) bus. Even on an authoritative level, there is thoughtlessness.

It wasn’t so much the throwing of a water bottle into a plant that upset me, as it was the fact that the act of littering represents the kind of carelessness and a total lack of respect many people have for the environment. How much respect does each and every one of us have for not only this campus, but for the environment as a whole in between the days of environmental reminders? If people don’t mind trashing a place where they work, attend classes and maybe even live at, what is to stop them from showing the same disregard for the entire world’s land?

The New York Times in the March 22 article, “Hong Kong Issues Warning as Air Pollution Sets Record” said, “Air pollution in Hong Kong, one of the perpetual banes of living and working in this Asian financial hub, reached record levels on Monday and remained intense on Tuesday, setting off an official government warning to avoid outdoor activities and physical exertion.” This is alarming – as it should be.

The lack of initiative to transform economic agendas and to take action has resulted in an ironic blend of toxic pollution – human beings aren’t able to even take care of or withstand the environment they’ve created around them.

The 2008 World Wild Fund Living Planet Report says, “If we continue with business as usual, by the early 2030s we will need two planets to keep up with humanity’s demand for goods and services.”

I don’t want environmental stewardship to become an elitist fad, a label or a brand. Just like bumper stickers protesting for the rain forest disappeared about 10 years ago.

Environmental concerns are often placed in large-scale frames and monumental political reforms on emissions and regulations, but if we learned to regulate our personal choices and decisions, maybe those in China and alike would not have to wear masks to walk in downtown cities and have the smog take place of clouds.

Chelsea Whitton is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].