Happy end of the school year, Cobbers! Most of the articles I have written this year have tried to tackle the question of what good action towards becoming a sustainable society means. At the end of this year I can confidently say that after writing countless articles about it, I’m not completely sure. What does it truly mean to BREW amidst a crisis like climate change? I think it’s many actions all at once, which is part of what makes it so complicated. Let me just share a bit of my personal struggles in becoming interested in sustainability. Maybe you’ll resonate with it, maybe not. I think what’s most important is recognizing an issue and then doing something about it. What I hope is that you feel that you matter and that your actions matter.
At the beginning of my college career I became extremely interested in the environmental movement because a lot of my classes illuminated the dire urgency of devastating issues like climate change, deforestation, pollution, and the food industry. I became engaged in campus environmental groups on campus to try to do my individual part in taking a stance against all of those harmful, complex issues I had learned about. I changed my lifestyle: I became a vegetarian, took shorter showers, turned off the lights when I didn’t need them, and encouraged my friends to do the same. At the same time I started to take action and literally changed the way I lived, reports continued to come out on the daily about how greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase, each year keeps getting hotter, and more people are being displaced because of climate change. I started to question whether my actions really did make a difference.
Professors and other students also started making me question the impact of individual actions like taking shorter showers, eating a vegetarian diet, or turning off the lights. Those actions alone weren’t enough, so it was better to advocate for policies that tried to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So I changed my approach to thinking about the environmental movement and participated in advocacy organizations like 350.org in the community to learn about making more systematic approaches and movements. With some success through movements like participating in the People’s Climate March, a march against the Keystone XL pipeline, and the COP21 solidarity march, I got excited about being part of making a bigger difference. I got excited that policies against the pipeline were signed and the COP21 march tried to encourage progressive goals at the climate talks in Paris. Though these steps were both in the right direction, they still weren’t enough to encourage the few elites and companies that have a lot of power and emit the most amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Almost every conflict in the world had some sort of connection to climate change and who has power or what discourse has power.
Then a whole shift in thinking has to happen that goes against that ideology of power that privileges few and forgets many, including the environment. Maybe the environmental movement isn’t even about the environment, but rather identifying a different paradigm that redefines how humans interact with one another. That’s tricky, maybe even impossible amidst crisis.
I haven’t given up hope in the movement. I still am a vegetarian, take shorter showers, turn off the lights, go to organized get-togethers and protests, and enjoy being outside. No one should discourage those actions because they are also important. I have to keep doing all of those and help create different policies and philosophies. A 21st century environmentalist, then, also means redefining humanity in a way that gives power to more people. This means transforming our own actions, our way of organizing ourselves, and the way we think about interacting with the whole world. You’re a part of the world and what you do or in that case, what you don’t do, matters.
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.