The Claremont Colleges bubble houses a community where issues of_x000D_
social responsibility and justice are always at the forefront of the_x000D_
campus-wide conversation. Global climate change and environmental_x000D_
awareness are certainly included in that conversation, and high-profile movements such as the Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign have aimed to_x000D_
effect environmentally friendly policy at the 5Cs. Indeed, there are many battles to be won to change institutions, from_x000D_
colleges to governmental bodies, to become a sustainable part of the_x000D_
global ecosystem rather than a drain on local and global resources.
But often the discussion of the larger,_x000D_
institutionalized forces we can sense acting on our lives pushes aside the discussion about individuals and our lifestyle choices. The ends we desire when we propose policy reform are the same_x000D_
as, or at least mirror, our personal moral goals and values, reflecting a desire to reduce environmental impact and be a part of sustainable institutions. But the question of how an_x000D_
individual, as opposed to an institution, should behave in order to realize these goals is usually left_x000D_
unasked or at best unsatisfactorily answered.
This week TSL reported on the most recent in a series of waste audits conducted by_x000D_
Pomona College’s Sustainability Integration Office (SIO), revealing that the total amount of trash_x000D_
produced at Pomona as well as the amount of compostable material in the_x000D_
trash has increased the past few years. For a student body that_x000D_
mounts strong student movements for divestment, that declares climate_x000D_
change to be one of the greatest threats humanity has ever faced, we_x000D_
seem to do a poor job of molding our own lives and community to reflect_x000D_
those beliefs and make changes on an individual level.
While this audit only reviews one school’s waste, we can imagine that the behavior of other Claremont Colleges students is not radically different from Pomona students. Although institutional relationships such as investments in fossil fuel companies are a large factor in the colleges’ overall environmental impact, individual lifestyle choices are an obvious driving factor behind the amount of waste produced by the 5Cs. Students can lament the campaign’s initial failure to produce divestiture, but it is hypocritical to bemoan the policies of_x000D_
institutions that we cannot shift while failing to implement the individual lifestyle changes that we could easily make that could, at least collectively, make a significant difference.
This failure to implement environmentally friendly lifestyles is not necessarily a conscious choice. But when we are so primed to_x000D_
consider social problems as existing outside of us, outside of our own individual behavior—as things we must change about large systems or institutions—we can forget to consider the way social, moral, and ethical issues function in our own lives. There are_x000D_
certainly students at the 5Cs who monitor where their food comes_x000D_
from, who stand next to the dish station handing out cookies to students who compost, who turn their lights off every time they leave_x000D_
the room. But when we see evidence that our waste consumption has increased in an already_x000D_
consumerist, pampered climate (housekeeping staff empty our overflowing trash cans and keep our bathrooms sparkling clean), it seems clear that most of us are ignoring_x000D_
our individual duties to the environment.
Proposing institutional change matters because it can affect enough individuals’ lives and_x000D_
actions to make a large-scale difference in behaviors and outcomes. Policies that will help preserve the environment require that people live their lives differently, whether that manifests as a cap on energy consumption or waste per person or through some other means, but we too often_x000D_
only look outwards when considering what behaviors need to be_x000D_
curtailed. One more article telling you to unplug your laptop would_x000D_
add very little to the conversation: The rhetoric is already out_x000D_
Students know what to do to reduce their environmental impact and many—if not all—care about preserving the environment for future generations, but too many students do not change their individual behavior to limit their corrosive effects on the environment. We do not tolerate sexist behavior from someone just because they preach institutional equality for men and women, and the same standard should be held to environmentalists. We need to incorporate the values of the environmental policies we support on a large scale into our daily lives.
The SIO audits simply reveal that_x000D_
when it comes to issues of environmental justice, we often look_x000D_
outside rather than in. We use far too much energy here and throw out_x000D_
much more trash than we should—an amount that has increased over the past few semesters—and that is mostly a factor of what_x000D_
behaviors we partake in on an individual level. Before we become overly concerned with_x000D_
how the rest of the world deals with climate change, we should worry_x000D_
about how we deal with it to make sure that we embody the values_x000D_
that ground our political and moral ideals. We need to make a much_x000D_
stronger effort to tailor our individual lives to the environmental_x000D_
realities we all—not just governments and colleges and societal_x000D_