In the photo: McKitrick (front, left) and Campus Environmental Center student leaders, Spring 2020
Blog post by Avery McKitrick, co-director of the Campus Environmental Center and a junior majoring in Environmental Science
A Student Perspective
Let me put myself in your shoes. You’re a broke college student. You live in an over-priced apartment in West Campus that may or may not recycle and definitely doesn’t compost. You probably walk, take the bus, or Uber pretty much everywhere. You know about climate change. You understand that it’s real. And you understand that there are some things that you do to personally “cut your carbon footprint,” an outdated term that basically means to stop making so much greenhouse gas. You do some of those things. Ok, Cool. Hook em’.
But you don’t really know where to take your compost, even if you had time to lug it somewhere. And doesn’t compost smell bad anyways? You kind of know what to recycle, and when you aren’t sure, you throw it in the bin anyway, because they sort through it at the recycling facility, right? You don’t really want to stop eating meat, because you can’t afford it, or you simply don’t know how you’re going to feel full. You take the bus. You use a reusable water bottle. You have a metal straw. Honey, I see you. I know y’all are trying. And most importantly, I know how expensive, time-consuming, and confusing being “green” can be, especially as a college student. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’m here to give you the tools to choose green, whatever your individual needs or circumstances may be.
Maximize Your Impact
Not all actions are created equal. The example I like to use is that going a year without paper can save a few trees. Going a year without meat can save hundreds of trees (think deforestation from agribusiness operations). So all that trouble that you went through to not use a sticky note that one time, comparatively, didn’t do a whole lot compared to the effect that, for example, not eating meat that day would have had. Some studies show that other big impacts you can have are, for example, choosing not to take so many airplane flights, which are known to emit about 5% of the global carbon emissions. That’s 43 gigatons of carbon by 2050. You get the idea. Some actions have bigger impact than others.
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (in that order)
I know what you’re thinking: what is this new “R?” Environmentalists recently added “refuse” to emphasize that the biggest impact you can have is to actually not consume items in the first place. This includes things like not buying new clothes as opposed to thrifting, not buying disposable cutlery for that rager on Saturday, or not taking a plastic bag for your succulents when you buy them from Home Depot.
So what about the other R’s? They’re actually in order of their environmental impact. Let’s go to the grocery store for this example. You just picked out your favorite chips and guac for that rager, and it’s time to check out. The most sustainable thing you can do is carry that out without bags (reusable or otherwise). That would be refusing. Another, slightly less sustainable (but still very impactful) option would be to bring your own reusable bags. That would be refusing too. But let’s say you can’t carry all that guac, and you don’t have any reusable bags. At this point, you choose to reduce. You can double-bag that guac, but you choose not to to save one plastic bag. But let’s say that you absolutely must double-bag it. You take those bags home and use them as trash can liners. You’re reusing. Finally, let’s say none of the previous options work. You don’t have any way to refuse, reduce, or reuse. You resort to bringing the used bags back to the grocery store to be recycled, since they can’t go in your curbside compost. With each step in the process, you use more and more resources. You use more carbon, more water, and more space than the one before. So do Mother Earth a favor and remember your R’s (and the order).
Most Importantly, Don’t Give Up
This climate change stuff can get pretty grim. Take it from me. But it’s important that you don’t give up and that you continue to fight for our future. Every time I want to give up or feel that my individual actions are useless, I think back to something that Jim Walker, the Director of the Office of Sustainability at UT, once told me when my coworker asked him if we should have hope for the planet anymore: “You have to.” There is no other option, and guys, we have to do it together. So who’s with me?