Ahh … If you’re like me, the changing of the leaves and the crisp air makes you incredibly happy to be alive. Yes, it’s fall and I bet you might be all about one of those pumpkin spice lattes, going to a pumpkin patch to buy some pumpkins or snuggling up to watch a scary movie. If you are, go for it. I plan to go get a pumpkin myself. Fall also means change: a change in the leaves, the season and hopefully in yourself too. We’re all finally getting settled into the flusters of a new semester and you may be beginning to think about doing something differently. As you go about your endeavors, remember to do so in a way that considers the amount you are given. Remember that you have the power to choose how you leave your mark on the world.
But can we really make a difference? I think this is one of the biggest questions I have asked myself in college. Like everyone, I go in and out of feeling empowered and disempowered about this question and specifically with environmental issues. We learn about big world problems like climate change and deforestation far away and sometimes it can be hard to know what to do. None of us are ever going to be completely footprint-less on the earth, even if you decide to live in the middle of the woods away from all traces of people. Just by living, we leave an impact on everything around us. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re part of a structure that may be leaving a negative impact on the world.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that being a vegetarian won’t change anything in the world and the all-encompassing phrase, “sorry, it’s not sustainable,” when someone thinks I’m judging them for throwing something away. I’m not going to judge you and I’m still going to be a vegetarian because I truly believe that we (as a whole) have the power to change the way we impact the world. Sure, the meat industry can’t change by just one person not eating meat, but I don’t think we should let that deter us from thinking that we are making an impact. To make lasting change, it takes every individual, community, legislator and government. Most of the time, changes start from a small group of people making a big stink about something. A perfect example of this type of action happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was written about the negative effects of pesticide use; a bunch of people were enraged about what they read in her book; a lot more people connected Carson’s writing with other environmental issues; all those people gathered together to put pressure on other people and the government to create more environmental regulations; the first Earth Day happened; and then the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other important regulations still relevant today were put in place.
Wow! Look at what a small group of people did together to make a difference. So be brave. If you feel guilty about throwing something away when there is no recycling bin in sight, then hold yourself accountable and take it with you to recycle it in another place. Start with changing your own actions and then think of ways to incorporate your individual actions with bigger issues. If you don’t agree with the way a corporation is treating people, then do something about it. To do nothing, even if you’re not sure if you’re really making a difference, is incredibly disempowering and counterproductive. The winds of change are blowing, y’all. Go pick a local pumpkin, make some apple cider and make a change.
Erica Bjelland is a senior Global Studies and Environmental Studies double major hailing from Decorah, IA. She likes to keep her iCal full by being co-president of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA), a member of the President’s Sustainability Council and Student Government Association, and a bassist in the Concordia Orchestra. When she’s not living off her calendar, Erica spends time learning guitar, running, drinking coffee, fan-girling over Aldo Leopold, and discovering new ways to cook black beans.