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Wednesday, August 05, 2020 — Houston, TX °

Environmental conservationism a duty not a decision

By Christina Hughes     3/31/11 7:00pm

With all the coverage of exciting environmental initiatives on campus recently, Rice looks from the outside like a leader in sustainable living. We have classes dedicated solely to green campus initiatives, top-notch LEED certified buildings, green roofs, single-stream recycling, bike sharing programs and even part of our tuition now goes toward improving our carbon footprint. There's no doubt that Rice students are smart enough to know about the importance of maintaining a sustainable lifestyle, but are we smart enough to care?

With the wave of new improvements to Rice's carbon footprint, we should be excited and encouraged, but in reality it's only become more apparent the general apathy amongst students about personal environmental responsibility.

So we live in Texas. So we don't go to the most liberal university in the nation. So you were raised on oil company money, drove an SUV and have two Republican-party affiliated parents who taught you that climate change is just "Greenpeace propaganda". Well, me too. It isn't an excuse. You all know the issues. You all know what you can do to help. Now you have to try.

I've noticed the terms "environmentally conscious" and "green" tend to be associated with images of Birkenstock-clad hipsters eating tofu and bean sprouts on the lawns of pretty obscure parks you've probably never heard of. Maybe that's not entirely accurate, but when we use those terms, it's usually in reference to someone else. That's our problem. You see, the thing about environmental issues is that we can't rely on someone else to care. Someone else caring, someone else doing something, someone else worrying about it isn't enough. You, yes you, are contributing to climate change. You are contributing to pollution, depletion of natural resources and endangerment of species. You don't get to change the channel on this infomercial because unlike issues of global poverty and disease, environmental issues impact you directly and physically and will continue to impact you every day for the rest of your life. You may even have a shorter life because of them. There are no clean air property rights or natural disaster prevention force fields you can buy to protect yourself from the damage our human population has caused.  As typical as it may sound, the only solution really is to take action.

The most common excuse I hear is this: There's no point in trying to reduce my carbon footprint because anything I do personally will make such miniscule difference in the grand scheme of things that it won't even really matter. Myth. Using that logic, exercising would also be pointless. What difference is 25 minutes on the treadmill going to make? Nothing you can physically see or feel, that's for sure. However, when you start to run for 25 minutes on the treadmill every day, the results begin to make a difference, right? The same goes for personal environmental responsibility. No, maybe resetting your thermostat from 68 to 72 won't halt global warming, but if everyone were to start making little changes like this over a long period of time, big things could start to happen. Let me rephrase that: big changes will not be happen until little ones are made first. That's where you come in.

I like to think of living sustainably as the lazy-man's guide to saving the world. How much effort is it really to recycle that servery cup or beer can? (C'mon guys, we even have single-stream recycling on campus now. There's no excuse.) How much will it really detract from your personal hygiene if you take a five minute shorter shower or use cold water in the wash instead of hot? How many long hours will you spend slaving away at your computer changing your printer settings to print double sided? Are you really going to pass out from heat exhaustion if you turn off the thermostat in your room today? And if you can't bring yourself to care enough to make these tiny lifestyle changes based on your concern for the terrifying path our world in headed on, do it to save yourself a ton of cash.

Despite the rumor that environmentally friendly products are more expensive, there's no denying the fact that in the long run wasteful activities are always going to cost you more. Drive a car with better fuel mileage, reduce your personal carbon emissions and save money on gas. Ride a bike instead of driving, reduce your emissions to zero and save even more money on gas. Use both sides of a piece of paper, save money on paper. Read articles and turn in assignments electronically, save even more money on paper. Be more conservative with your water, air conditioning, and lighting use in your dorm, save yourself housing costs. (Apparently a lot of people don't know this, but your housing bill is based on previous years' utilities usages.)

I'm not just talking to students either. In my experiences, faculty and staff have even more responsibility to care about environmental issues. You are the teachers of our generation. Contrary to what many of you might think, students will listen to what you say and follow your example more often than not. I have professors who teach environmental related subjects, yet insist on handing out hard copies of all class materials every week. You don't have to be an environmental studies professor to teach sustainability either. To the teachers I say this: challenge yourselves to lead by example. Maybe the environmental movement didn't occur until after your generation, but that doesn't exempt you from the consequences it is addressing.

To the students I say this: challenge yourselves to care. Make one change in your daily routine starting right now. Push yourself to get more involved in environmental organizations. Take one of the awesome environmental studies classes we have at Rice. Think more about the energy costs associated with your decisions. Environmental sustainability and carbon footprint reduction are things that you should always continue to strive towards. You have a moral responsibility not only to our Earth, but to yourself and your future generations to limit your contribution to health affecting pollution and degradation as well as climate change.  

Thanks for saving the world.

Christina Hughes is a Baker College sophomore.


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