My Environmental Priorities

When I think about the environment, my mind shuffles through a flip-book of vibrant pictures. Animals (polar bears, honey bees, blue whales, sloths, elephants, poison dart frogs, sea turtles…), ecosystems (drought-cracked deserts, lush rainforests, crashing waves, redwoods standing tall as silent sentinels), and then of course the bad images (coal power plants coughing smoke, fishing lines tangled in the flippers of a turtle, bloodied elephant tusks, forest fires, identical corn fields stretching for miles, golf courses with luxurious fountains).

Palm oil plantation on Sumatra.

So how can I possibly choose one thing to protect?

I am learning about a new environmental injustice, a new critically endangered animal or ecosystem, a new threat to our Earth each day. My heart grows heavy with the knowledge and the constant worry that what I am eating and wearing and using is unknowingly harming another species, a beautiful place.

My favorite thing to say to people, and myself, is that awareness is the first, and most important, step.

This is true in all things. In order for anything to change, people must gain awareness. That is what I am passionate about, and why I chose my minor. After realizing that I was about to gain a plethora of new environmental knowledge, I knew I had to learn how to tell people about it in the best way possible. A role model of this process for me is the activity I was a part of that enlightened me about my privilege as a middle-class white person.

The poster that accompanied the presentation and privilege walk activity at my job.

The best thing about the activity I participated in was that: 1) My job is in Oakland, CA which is an incredibly diverse area and this was reflected in my staff. I got to gain a ton of perspective from their lives. 2) The environment was understanding, there was no blame, we were able to talk about how we felt, and the presenter made sure that we understood it was no fault of ourselves.

This is what I want to do for the environment. I want to communicate with all kinds of people about what the pressing issues are, and how they can take on some responsibility to help work towards a solution. I want to share my passion about saving the bees, preventing the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built, overfishing and by-catch, coral reef bleaching, and all of the other issues I will continue to learn about.

When people ask me what I want to do with my major, after I tell them my very specific career goals, I like to joke that I just want to save the planet. This may sound naive, and it may sound childish that I plan on centering my entire life on my passion, but the fire inside myself and my fellow peers is a powerful one, not to be extinguished by a climate-denying president or massively complex corporations burning down forests. We will be able to sustain the lifeforms and ecosystems on this planet, little by little, person by person.

Here’s how I’m going to start (you should try these things, too!):

  • Recycling! I need to learn the intimate details of recycling and what plastics really can and cannot be recycled. Already my roommate and all my friends will ask me whether or not their food packaging or Starbucks cup is recyclable. I have influenced them to be conscious of what they toss and where they toss it. It started with my first lesson: straws and cup lids? an unnecessary luxury and a simple step to reducing your plastic footprint.
  • Being energy aware! I usually don’t stop to think about what I have plugged in, and how much phantom energy it is using. I recently learned about my impact on energy (which keep in mind, most of which is fossil fuel generated) and now when I leave a room, not only do I turn the lights off I also check that power strips are off, and unnecessary gadgets are shut down.
  • Continuing to be vegetarian, and choosing restaurants and grocery stores that support local farmers. I’ll buy non-GMO, and I will not buy from companies that support the things I am fighting (ex. companies that use unsustainable palm oil ).
  • Consciously reducing my use of plastics!
  • Taking shorter showers, and saving water to keep my water footprint low.

These are all steps I can take every day to reduce my negative impact on our environment while I am living in a dorm on campus. In the long term I want to accomplish a sustainable life by:

  • Having my own garden plot for veggies/flowers.
  • Using a gray water system
  • Shopping and buying local, maybe even straight from the farm
  • Commuting as much as possible
  • Using renewable energy
  • Working an environmental job

In my city of Flagstaff, Arizona there are several excellent environmental organizations working hard to make local change and educate people. (research organizations in your city, too!)

  • The Nature Conservancy — managing and protecting Hart Prairie nature preserve
  • The Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter — fighting uranium mines, Grand Canyon developments, and Oak Flat
  • Willow Bend Environmental Education Center — reaching out to youth and educating them about their environment
  • American Conservation Experience — Corps of people passionate about the outdoors who conserve and maintain trails and forests
  • Grand Canyon Trust — working to protect the Grand Canyon and other beautiful canyons on the Plateau
  • Friends of Flagstaff’s Future — local citizen group to promote sustainability and equity
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