Consider this: If every human being on earth lived and consumed as Americans do, we would need over four earths to support ourselves. This is called global overshoot, and it is like living off our ecological credit card. Our current unsustainable way of life is borrowing from the future. Is this sustainable? Hardly. So, as Tufts students, as young people coming of age at a time of deep social and environmental injustices, what should we do? We didn’t create these problems; we inherited them. Yet the responsibility to act falls squarely on our shoulders.
I challenge Tufts students to go deeper than just recycling or Zero Waste Week, and to have discussions and debates about what it will really take to create sustainability on this small and fragile planet.
It is time to turn our critical eye toward our institution’s “green initiatives.” I challenge my peers to go beyond traditional environmentalism. We must go beyond the institutionalized ideas of “going green,” such as recycling and responsible consumerism, in order to tackle the great environmental crises of our time: climate change, deforestation, fresh water depletion and total ecological unraveling.
The trouble with recycling is that most of our so-called environmental problems are actually social and economic problems and problems of power.
We need collective political action and systemic changes. We need radical paradigm shifts and shifts in consciousness, as well as bold transformations of our economic, political and social systems. This is because we are not isolated. We are not, in actuality, the hyper-individualized consumers we are conditioned to be. Our economic and social behaviors are interrelated with each other and entangled in broader systems of economic activity, resource extraction and networks of economic and political power. Simply making different individual decisions as consumers is based on the assumption that our personal consumption is the root of the problem. Personal overconsumption is certainly part of the problem, but so is the problem of corporate power, institutionalized racism and a whole model of economic growth that puts profits for an elite class over peoples’ health and the earth’s vitality.
Our human activities are interrelated in a sort of ecology not dissimilar from the ways nature and her natural processes are interrelated. For example, the political power of the fossil fuel companies in turn affects what consumer choices are available to us. Our system isn’t broken; it is fixed — specifically set up to reinforce class and racial hierarchies and to benefit corporate power. The myth of the free market obscures the fact that our intertwined economic and political system prioritizes large, unsustainable corporate profit via tax cuts, “free trade” agreements and government subsidies. Consider that fossil fuel companies do not pay any taxes or fees on carbon pollution and are heavily subsidized by governments globally to the tune of $1.9 trillion a year. Trillion, with a T, 2.5 percent of the global GDP. This is corruption and greed at the highest level and evidence of a massive failure on the part of our leaders. To bring about a clean energy revolution, we will need to not simply recycle and use less, but also confront this reality of corruption and systemic failure.
The way I see it, everyone should be recycling, composting and using efficient light bulbs and appliances. This should be a baseline. If companies come up with innovative, efficient products or new ways of using materials, that is great. If Tufts promotes recycling initiates or encourages students to consume less, I am all for it. But it isn’t nearly enough to match the problem at hand. We too often succeed at being responsible consumers but fail at being engaged with the broader political systems we are a part of. As Annie Leonard has said, we need to flex our citizen muscles, as well as our good consumer muscles.
The simple truth is that we need immediate, bold and collective action in order to rapidly create a paradigm shift and radically change our social and economic systems. An over-emphasis on recycling makes too many of us feel good about ourselves, without actually accomplishing much.
As Naomi Klein wrote recently: “Climate Change. It’s not an ‘issue’ for you to add to the list of things to worry about. It is a civilizational wakeup call. A powerful message — spoken in the language of fires, floods, storms and droughts — telling us that we need an entirely new economic model, one based on justice and sustainability.”
So please, keep recycling, keep trying to buy things produced and grown locally and use a reusable water bottle and coffee mug. That is important. But don’t think that it is enough, and please don’t stop there. Join the growing climate movement, which is turning to tactics such as divestment and civil disobedience to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry. Take classes on environmental justice, environmental racism and social change. Educate yourself about alternative economic paradigms, such as the new economy movement and eco-socialism. Be a part of this movement. There is room for you, and you are needed.
-Kyra Sturgill, The Tufts Daily