For a period of time, I questioned the approaches environmental activists took to promote the environmental movement. My attention turned off when I heard terms like sustainable, eco-friendly and green—meaningless jargon I felt coerced me into taking short showers. Environmentalism was Big Brother’s faceless younger relative, equipped with a mandate of social rules to prevent me from doing the so-called environmentally destructive things I enjoyed. But I learned my relationship with the movement could be mutual. Today, I support environmentalism, most recently as an EcoRep: a new position at Pomona College designed to give name and face to the environmental movement by promoting environmental consciousness as something all Claremont students (not to mention people in general) should have. The question EcoReps are here to answer is:Why be environmentally ‘responsible?’
My immediate answer, that you should be environmentally conscious because everyone uses resources from the environment, and subsequently impacts the environment, may sound cliché, but let me try to convince you of its importance. In my answer, I am not condemning anyone for utilizing nature’s bounty; food— the most basic example of a natural resource— is quite necessary for life. Unfortunately, however, eating food does leave the environment a little less rich, which means there is a little less food for other people to enjoy, less food for nature’s ecosystems to continue functioning and less food for the future.
So, what does it mean to be environmentally conscious? To me, being environmentally conscious consists of understanding how one’s actions affect nature. Many students often discuss how the Claremont Colleges induce in them a greater sense of responsibility for their words and actions as they pertain to other people, especially with regard to race, socioeconomic class, and culture. At the Claremont Colleges, one would likely be reprimanded for making a blatantly racist comment. Why? The answer is obvious: because the comment negatively affects other people. In the same way, one needs to be conscious and responsible for one’s actions as they negatively affect the environment. When one utilizes natural resources, logically there are fewer resources for others to utilize. Therefore, what negatively affects the environment both directly and indirectly affects other people.
It is then essential to answer the question of how to be more conscious. This is the point at which I once rejected the environmental movement. I felt the environmental movement was out to control my every action, demanding me to be ‘eco-friendly’, a vague goal I could never quite satisfy as long as I kept living on this earth and consuming the Earth’s resources.
But the environmental movement is not about being eco-friendly or green; rather, it is about self-awareness. Since arriving at Pomona, I’ve found myself thinking more about the actions I perform and words I say—even those that seem minute and harmless— and if they may hurt or offend other people. Without undergoing major lifestyle changes, I’ve tailored my actions and words to be more sensitive to other people and in the process become more mindful of them. That is not to say I do not make mistakes at times, and say something that is offensive or negatively affects someone. However, these mistakes grow less and less compared to the many other people I have avoided hurting or offending.
Likewise, the environmental movement is not about completely changing one’s behavior or making one feel guilty every time they throw a plastic water bottle in the trash. Being environmentally conscious is simply about gaining more awareness of how throwing a water bottle in the trash effectively increases landfill size when the bottle could easily be recycled and reused. Being environmentally conscious is about understanding the beneficial impact one can make by composting that unfinished apple rather than tossing it. Being environmentally conscious is about realizing that one’s fifteen minute shower may be depleting just a little bit more of southern California’s scarce water reserves, and asking if these benefits of a long shower outweigh the costs to others.
As an EcoRep, I live in a first-year dorm and utilize peer-education and collaboration to try to instill a greater self-awareness in my residents as to how they impact the environment. While I do help to organize events, most of my work is done through informal conversation and discussion. EcoReps strive to be more personal and collaborative— rather than mandating— environmental activists in the hopes of answering the most basic question about environmental responsibility: why it even matters.
Aidan Orly PO ’16 is a sponsor in Gibson Residence Hall and a biology major.