Author: Cutler, Elizabeth
I went to Santa Monica beach last week, but not to swim, tan or play beach volleyball. Roteract organized a trip to clean up trash on the beach and, let me tell you, the amount of garbage left to languish in our environment is downright depressing.
While discarding other people’s candy wrappers, Styrofoam cups and one used condom (don’t even get me started), I had some time to think about an issue that we hear a lot on and off of campus: environmentalism. I do consider myself to be an environmentalist, but I don’t use only environmentally-friendly cleaning products or print on both sides of the paper. This is because I believe in a specific type of sustainability—sustainable sustainability. For me, cleaning with products that don’t work as well as the chemically-saturated ones is just not going to fly. I would print on both sides of the paper, but that takes time that I don’t necessarily have and increases the chances of a printer jam.
My point here is that while I appreciate and admire the efforts of organizations and individuals who advocate “green” lifestyles, I urge people to find ways to incorporate environmentalism into their lives even if they cannot make a full commitment. Too often we are told to make dramatic changes in our lifestyles—buy special cleaning and paper products, take five-minute showers, save up for a hybrid, etc.—but this is simply incompatible with the lives that most people lead.
Many people cannot sustain these lifestyle changes in the long run. It is noble and admirable to aim for completely environmentally-friendly lives, but it is unrealistic and therefore undermines the entire purpose of environmentalism. We can tell people how to live completely green lifestyles, but by turning environmentalism into an all-or-nothing deal, we push people away and weaken the environmentalist movement.
So what can we do instead? We can advocate sustainability that is actually sustainable; that is, choices and actions that are convenient for people to implement on a regular basis. I wouldn’t trade my Seventh Generation laundry detergent for anything, and after experimenting with some alternative cleaning products, you couldn’t pry my beloved Clorox wipes out of my hands. But don’t tell me that I’m not an environmentalist on the grounds that I refuse to give up my non-green cleaning solution—I’m simply finding what works for me and what doesn’t. If someone else loves a good all-natural disinfectant but can’t give up her/his Tide, so be it. Our environment is too precious and too endangered to alienate everyone who makes some but not all lifestyle changes. I’m just pointing out that the U.S. consumes a third of the world’s natural resources, so we should incorporate lasting ways of ameliorating that damaging effect into our normal lives.
Sustainable sustainability is about finding ways to respect the environment that we can actually commit to doing in the long run. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Invest in a reusable to-go container. Recycle. Find what works for you and stick to it—and please, don’t leave condoms on the beach for other people to throw away.
Elizabeth Cutler is a junior Politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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