Taking hot showers is my guilty pleasure.
Usually, I turn the water on, scrub-a-dub and then hop out. But when I’m really stressed out, a long, hot shower is just so perfect.
But then I leave the shower, and I see the infographic hanging on the walls of the bathrooms in Unit 3 residence hall. “Every minute in the shower uses ~5 gallons of water. Green your bathroom routine!” And then I feel guilty.
I really try my best to be as environmentally conscious as possible. I try not to eat meat. I try to carry around a reusable water bottle. I try to pick up litter when I see it.
But sometimes, I falter. My friends will go out for Chick-fil-A, and guys those nuggets are so tempting. I’ll forget my bottle at home and buy coffee in a disposable cup, or I’ll see a sad chip bag getting pushed around by the wind, but I’m rushing on my way to class and don’t have the time to stop and pick it up.
And I feel so bad. I feel like an environmental hypocrite, a green goof. Here I am, writing about the environment week by week, but if I even catch a whiff of a chicken nugget I break down. Sad.
When I get this way, spiraling into a hole of environmental guilt, I think of my sister. My sister, bless her heart, has taken so much of my “environmental bull—-.” She’s had to live with me for 16 years, turning the lights off in every room she leaves and just needing to turn the faucet off while she’s brushing her teeth.
Whenever I do this, my sister asks me why. Why do I incessantly feel the need to take these tiny, seemingly ineffectual, environmentally motivated actions when it really doesn’t matter? At least on the scale of all of the people on the entire planet, it really doesn’t matter if we let the faucet run for a minute or two. Just let the water flow!
I mean, I get it. My little habits could be labeled as slightly environmentally neurotic, but the fact that they are seen as unnecessary represents an enormous issue in our country’s environmental ethos. I really do not feel the need to lay out more doom and gloom about how our climate is changing and how it will spell destruction for mankind — I’ve done that for 12 weeks. Since a majority of Americans recognize the reality of anthropogenic climate change, it’s clearly not an issue of understanding that an issue exists. But taking action to combat it is a severely different thing.
I do not want to place the blame for our planet’s current polluted state on the average American — it is common knowledge that big corporations are the largest climate change contributors. But our society’s structure has framed how we think about the environment in a way that is unproductive and unhealthy. Large corporations, in every sector of the economy from fashion to fuel, have built a world driven by plastic and oil. These are the creators of single-use products that are cheap, easy and readily available, but clog our landfills and the streets we walk on. They have shifted our view of the planet. We don’t see ourselves as one species of many, but as the only species of importance with a birthright to all planetary resources.
And sure, I cede the point that someone leaving the faucet on for a minute while they’re brushing their teeth has a negligible effect on the planet. But leaving the faucet on for a minute, twice a day, for every single day of your life does have a big impact. Then imagine that thousands of others are probably doing the exact same thing, just letting the water flow. The aggregate product of those thousands of people is thousands of wasted gallons of water. That’s a wasteful habit.
And we all have these wasteful habits. They’re unavoidable. Yesterday, I was eating leftover takeout fried rice. When I finished, I looked at the plastic bag, the plastic fork and the flimsy plastic box that the rice was packaged in. None of it was recyclable, and so I cringed as it all went straight into the trash. Imagining the many tons of plastic that I’ve generated in my life that will just sit on Earth for decades past when I’m gone terrifies me.
On the scale of all of the people who live on this planet, nothing that I, as an individual, do to change my habits is going to make a big difference. That’s the harsh reality. But what can make a difference, a huge one, is if what I say and do begins to influence other people. Our modern American industrialized society is not structured to be green. But, if we are able to shift the mindsets of thousands, millions, billions of people, then we can evolve our society.
We create the political culture that our representatives operate in. This is in fact their job — listening to their constituents, truly hearing what the people have to say. While I understand that (unfortunately) everything is political, the environment must be separated from partisan bickering and legislative gridlock. The environment is not a political issue — it’s a humanitarian one. Climate change does not discriminate — it will screw over Independents, Republicans and Democrats alike. In this way, the environmental movement (aptly) is a grassroots one, fueled by broad public support. Science has spoken; now it’s our turn. And if the people demand change, our representatives will listen.
As a human being, sometimes I get scared reading the news. Everything is so dramatic, so polarized and sometimes so imbued with contention and hate that I have to stop reading and do some self-care. The Amazon rainforest burning? Horrifying. 2019 being the second-hottest year on record? Terrifying. All of this makes me want to pack my bags and go live by myself in some forest far away, to finally get some peace and quiet and clean air to breathe.
But no. Despite all of this, the most important thing to keep in mind is to have hope. I have to have hope that our future will not be full of doom and gloom. I have hope because for every awful climate change report or news of a failed 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference meeting, there’s a story breaking about the youth striking for the planet or how many view climate change as the biggest issue they’re voting for this election season. I want to operate in this world of hope that takes the doom and gloom and uses it to speak for the trees and play a part in creating a clean, green planet for all to live on.
Katherine Shok writes the Wednesday column on environmental politics and justice. Contact her at [email protected].