Human impact has degraded the planet to a point of crisis. According to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere right now are higher than any point during the 3 million years the study covered. The International Panel on Climate Change published a study in October that found that the global temperature has increased by 1.8°F since the start of the Industrial Revolution—a rise that will increase to 2.7°F by 2040 if the current levels of greenhouse gas emissions remain the same. A temperature increase of this magnitude would have catastrophic consequences—coral reefs would completely collapse, the Arctic would be unrecognizable and catastrophic weather events like floods, droughts and fires would be everyday occurrences.
Predictions like these can be discouraging. Reversing deforestation, glacial melt, biodiversity loss and the scores of other environmental issues seems like a task that we couldn’t even put a dent in as individuals, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The biggest way we can protect the planet and restore threatened ecosystems is by making changes in our everyday lives to become more sustainable. The issues the environment is experiencing were caused by a society-wide shift in lifestyle—after the Industrial Revolution, we adopted wasteful and pollution-causing practices. We began to focus on convenience without thinking about the costs it would have down the line. We consume single-use items and short-life plastics like there’s no tomorrow, and if we don’t stop, then there really won’t be a tomorrow. We are burying our planet under the pollution of our careless lifestyles and suffocating it with the excessive burning of fossil fuels required to support our gluttonous and ignorant lifestyles.
In February of this year, I participated in a challenge called “Futuristic February.” During the entire month of February, I saved my trash to see how much waste I was producing. The results were astonishing; I had over four bags of trash. As someone who already tries to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle, this was shocking. But it showed me just how easy it is to fall into the habits of consumerism and convenience—the biggest habits we need to break in order to save the planet.
While shifting back to the greener methods of the past may seem daunting, I’ve found it to be liberating, empowering and even economically advantageous. One big thing that I focus on to make an eco-friendly lifestyle easy and cheap, something all college students need, is reuse. For example, I purchase peanut butter in glass jars. Not only does this reduce the amount of plastic I use, I then repurpose the jars—using them to carry tea/coffee, and pack lunches on busy days. Carrying a reusable water bottle/coffee cup, bringing bags to the grocery store, using cloth rags instead of paper—these are all easy switches that not only save the planet, but also save money. Another one of the biggest ways that I reduce my carbon footprint is through a plant-based diet. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that a vegan world would produce 50 percent less greenhouse gases and would cut deforestation by 75 percent. While making an entire lifestyle switch may not be feasible in the short-term, living an eco-friendly life is about making small changes over a long period of time. Slow progress is better than none, and if we come together as a community, each little impact will be magnified. I hope to see our generation unite to support and encourage each other to put the planet first. Start by turning off the lights when you leave a room, shutting off the water while you brush your teeth and refusing a straw when eating out. Then, once you’ve started the journey, you’ll find yourself searching for even more ways to live an eco-friendly life!