Let’s get something straight. I’m not a “science person”. In fact, this is the very reason I gravitated towards studying English and Literature because of its interpretive nature. No “right” answer was ever needed in order to learn something new about your own world view. So you can imagine my excitement and confidence in arriving at Boston College knowing that I was pursuing a major in a field of study I loved and understood. That is, until I was told I needed to complete two science courses in addition to a math course in order to graduate. Little did I know that this requirement would change the entire course of my studies, interests, passions and ultimately my life.
I originally signed up for “Sustaining the Biosphere” because my roommate had taken the class and become a TA. She promised it was an easy A, there were no tests, quizzes or exams. In fact, your grades for the entire course were based on journal entries. An English major’s dream.
That said, I came to learn that this course was no walk in the park. Our journals forced us to confront issues both in our environment and issues within ourselves and our interaction with our environment. Our journals asked us to complete assignments that required us to go stargazing, tell someone a truth we’ve been meaning to share, “befriend a tree”, go on a hike, or track all of our consumption for the day, amongst others.
At the start of the course, our professor required that we sign a written agreement recognizing our responsibilities for the class. She believed that if you weren’t going to engage in the material then there was no use in you taking the course. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and at first I thought this all sounded a little too “out-there” to take seriously. But I suppose that’s the reason hindsight is always 20/20. I wish I could pinpoint the exact “ah ha” moment I realized how crucial my role in “sustaining the biosphere” is but looking through my journal (which I’ve kept since) I’ve found what I think are the five biggest takeaways that most changed my world view (in no particular order).
- Planet Earth is a living organism, not a place we live.
- We are a part of the Earth not apart from it.
- All plastic and most waste we create cannot be “digested” by the earth, anything we create is never destroyed.
- There is no planet B.
- Everything is interconnected and interdependent on each other.
In recognizing that the Earth is an organism, just as I am, I was able to develop the same kind of compassion I would have for another being, for the planet and environment.
I saw trees differently. I would stop to look at the way mushrooms grew or look up at the stars walking back to my room rather than looking at my phone. My eyes were so suddenly opened and I couldn’t look away.
I recognized that in being a part of the Earth, I had a duty to contribute to the planet as a member in the biosphere just as any other organism would; I had to give more than I was taking. So I started small. I noticed when people littered and started investing in more sustainable habits. I picked up books on feminism and the environment, on the legal rights of the planet, and the history of food sources. I watched documentaries, joined my campus environmental group, went to lectures and sought out information.
This is all to say that I haven’t even made a dent in the amount of information there is to know about climate change and our effect as a human race on the planet. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that even if the science, sociology, politics, psychology and economics aren’t ready to make conclusions on what to do, there are so many small ways to “fight the good fight” and live a more sustainable life. We’re often told that we should do things because they are environmentally friendly but we’re not really sure how it makes a real impact or if our actions are merely a drop in the bucket.
They say it takes 21 days to make a habit. Each of the actions you’ll find below are easy to apply to everyday life and while a small change might be a sustainable action at first, soon it will turn to sustainable behavior and become a part of your lifestyle. Here are three actions you can take below and how each of these actions will truly make an impact on the environment.
Experiment with a plant-based diet
Lately health trends have been focused on pushing protein as the powerhouse of nutrition. While it’s true that protein is amazing for building muscle and losing fat, the meat and dairy industry has capitalized on this trend, pushing animal and dairy as the number one sources of protein.
What you may not know is that many plant sources actually contain more protein per calorie than a meat counterpart. Additionally, the meat industry is the number one contributor to rising methane levels in the atmosphere, as cows produce methane through their digestion and methane is nearly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. Unfortunately, due to agricultural gag laws (aka Ag-gag laws) many animal and environmental activists are oppressed into silence because the meat and agricultural industries are a major source of profit.
What Can I Do?
Try Earthy Andy’s 21-day plant-based lifestyle challenge. Eating plant-based can do wonders for your digestion, energy, complexion and can alleviate your wallet, and let’s be honest, us college girls are always down to save some money. If you don’t think you can make it 21 days, set a small goal to eat 2-3 days a week plant-based.
Try a “plastic-free” week
The Earth can’t digest plastic. Every piece of plastic large or small that’s ever been made still exists on the planet. As time goes by plastic will separate into smaller and smaller pieces, but never completely biodegrades. Areas of trash called “garbage patches” larger than some continents float in the middle of the ocean, becoming a natural gathering point from currents, winds, and other ocean features converge to accumulate marine debris.
Plastic exists in everything from face scrubs to fleece jackets, and when it breaks down into smaller and smaller particles called micro plastics, ocean animals cannot distinguish between food and plastic particles.
Many plastics also include chemicals, like BPA, that are absorbed by the body. These chemicals are known to disrupt hormones and your endocrine system. You might be surprised to know that many of the chemicals in plastic are mildly estrogenic, and tests done on lab rats have shown abnormalities to form on the bodies of male rats.
What Can I Do?
Take a cue from girlboss Lauren Singer who lives a waste-free lifestyle and shares tips on how to reduce your trash output and avoid plastics on her blog and YouTube channel, Trash is for Tossers!
Lee Tilghman from the blog Lee From America also has some amazing tips on how to do a plastic-free week here.
Calculate your Ecological Footprint
The Ecological Footprint is a resource accounting tool that measures how much biologically productive land and sea is used by a given population or activity, and compares this to how much land and sea is available. In other words, by calculating your own ecological footprint, you can get an estimate of your own human demand on the biosphere as compared to the biosphere’s ability to produce the resources you need. By calculating your Ecological footprint you can see in what areas you can reduce your consumption in a tangible way. This specific calculator will show you your energy consumption in terms of how much carbon dioxide you produce through your eating, transportation, living habits as represented through how many earths it would take to sustain the population for one year if everyone lived like you.
What Can I Do?
Take the quiz! After you’ve received your result, try to reduce your number of earths by at least half. This way, you will be able to see the tangible actions you could take in order to reduce your footprint.
This is by no means a complete list and the ways you can make a difference don’t end here. This planet is your home and if we continue to treat the planet as a commodity rather as a community we run the risk of destroying our (only) home. We are a small small part of a much bigger, more powerful community of living beings and if we want to continue to see human beings thrive we need to create a more sustainable way of doing so because the actions of today are the changes of tomorrow.
Featured image via Charlotte Reader