I’m sure you’ve grown tired of hearing the time-honored idiom “we’ve only got one Earth.” Well, let me take a moment to say it again: we’ve only got one Earth, so let’s invest in it! Happy Earth Month, Wesleyan! We celebrated Earth Day this past weekend, which presents an opportune reminder for all of us to consciously make sustainable decisions. 

I know, it’s tough to encourage individual action in the face of large corporations. Simply hearing about the sheer power of corporations and the outsized role of the top 1% in global emissions is disheartening, to say the least. I clearly don’t have the capacity to invest millions of dollars into reducing waste or building a wind turbine grid to offset the emissions that global corporations and the top 1% are putting into the environment. In fact, 1% of the world’s population likely accounts for more than half of the total emissions from air travel. Still, the disproportionate role that international corporations play often translates into our own negligence to make sustainable decisions. It may seem difficult to rationalize spending time, money, and energy to make eco-friendly choices when global corporations play a prominent role in environmental deterioration.

It’s easy to feel anxiety or stress in the midst of greenwashing, misleading the public about a company’s environmental impact, and the top 1%’s dominant role in contributing to the climate crisis. As an eco-facilitator for the Sustainability Office, I perpetually struggle to feel hopeful and optimistic about our climate situation. While I completely understand the value of the work I’m doing, it’s difficult to reconcile that stress when the barriers seem insurmountable. Worst of all, I feel a strong sense of climate anxiety, the distress and discomfort related to the consequences of climate change. It’s natural and rational to feel helpless when you realize the climate crisis is largely navigated by forces out of your control.

Nevertheless, it seems almost ironic that while more than half of adults in the United States see climate change as the most pressing issue facing society, four in 10 have not changed their behavior. Time and time again, I’ve heard from friends and peers that their individual actions are meaningless. Even simple decisions—waste disposal, leaving lights on, using a reusable water bottle—are waved away as insignificant in the grand scheme. This couldn’t be further from the truth. By the same token, it is necessary to recognize that there are disparities in what individuals can sustainably contribute. We can’t all take on major financial burdens to act sustainably, nor should we feel ashamed of it. However, my problem lies with a more general, blatant indifference to simple, low-stakes, inexpensive behavioral changes, which I find completely unacceptable.

I hear countless stories from members of the Sustainability Office about students unnecessarily complaining about sustainability on campus. Scanning the Eco-to-Go containers on the reUser application, for instance, is often scrutinized as time-consuming and irritating. In fact, I recently saw a stack of Eco-to-Go containers piled outside someone’s dorm room, disregarded and improperly disposed of. The reUser system was designed to reduce waste and emissions on campus as each container is made from 50% recycled plastic and can cut emissions generated from producing and using 2,000 single-use containers. At the same time, people are quick to advocate for sustainability on Instagram and other social media platforms, which is completely performative and ridiculous. Refusing to spend the two minutes it takes to scan your Eco-to-Go container while flaunting sustainability on Instagram is nothing short of hypocritical. 

Beyond the benefits of individual action on climate change, it’s also important to recognize its role in mitigating climate anxiety. Climate anxiety disproportionately affects the younger generations, with 47% of 18-34-year-olds in the country experiencing some form of stress regarding climate change. It’s also our generation that claims to be more inclined to make a difference, specifically as it concerns our shopping decisions: 95% of Gen-Zers are said to be willing to pay for more sustainable clothing products, despite a potentially higher price. Buying second-hand clothing and thrift shopping are also excellent options for investing in sustainable clothing. Committing yourself to individual action is a great way to cope with climate anxiety as you’re able to make a direct impact in your own life. 

Finally, I find that individual action is necessary for the development of collective action. During the first week of my eco-facilitator forum, my class discussed positive spillover, where an increase in one behavior corresponds to an increase in another behavior. In this sense, performing personal eco-friendly behaviors—buying an energy-efficient car, using less heat in the winter, reducing food waste—may be linked with our readiness to participate in collective actions like voting, signing petitions, and joining campaigns. Climate anxiety generally concerns our belief that we are unable to create change. Still, positive spillover is a powerful indication that our simple individual actions can lead to something more impactful. 

I say all of this to remind you that your actions, votes, and voices are all influential despite the power of big corporations. We have the power to create systemic, meaningful change in our environment, but we have to be willing to make some sacrifices. So I implore you to take the time to scan your Eco-to-Go container in next time you’re getting food from Summerfields; to properly dispose of your waste in your dorms; and to leave your napkins, tea bags, and food waste on your plate at the Usdan Marketplace.

Happy Earth Month, Wesleyan. It’s time to take sustainability seriously.


Lyah Muktavaram can be reached at lmuktavaram@wesleyan.edu.

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