UCSB is a school lauded internationally for its attention to the environment and its implementation of policies to promote sustainability on campus. However, this reputation comes more from the attention of administration and faculty to environmental issues than it does the environmental awareness of us students. That is not to say there aren’t students who care.
There’s an organization to save the mermaids that promotes action on behalf of marine animals, frequent beach cleanups and the Environmental Affairs Board that make strides towards change that will benefit the student body as a whole. But if our school is so exceedingly environmental, who are the ones throwing their trash on the beach? Who are the people cluttering I.V. with cigarette butts and plastic bags? And why did the majority of students in my section for Introduction to Environmental Studies, a required course for environmental studies majors, say we could keep going the way we’re going in our use of fossil fuels without seeing any effects of climate change in our life times?
I believe it starts with the idea that environmentalists fit a certain archetype. People believe they’ll be lumped into a group with the well intentioned albeit controversial “hippies and tree huggers” if they take the time to pick a piece of trash from the street or call out somebody who litters. This aversion to classification as an environmentalist was exemplified in another core environmental studies course: Chemistry of the Environment, in which students giving presentations shied away from facts that would underline the necessity for action to promote environmental awareness. During a presentation on the Keystone XL pipeline, students ignored statistics drawn from Keystone’s report that indicates the pipeline was a negative endeavor which would assuredly cause multiple spills per year because they wanted to “keep the topic neutral.” In another presentation, students talking about the huge amount of pollutants emitted by the factory farming industry disclaimed multiple times that “they weren’t trying to convince anyone to be vegan” while their entire presentation centered on the fact that this dietary choice was ludicrously better for the environment.
Why should anybody apologize for scientific fact? Especially when widespread acknowledgement of that fact would result in better quality of life for literally every species? Nobody should shy away from telling the truth, and nobody should be afraid to be active in pursuing awareness of our planet’s problems. In fact, people should be afraid that a large percentage of our lawmakers persistently ignore scientific fact and deny that the world around us is changing dramatically. This equation of environmental activists with people who want to cause trouble, or take away the comforts of daily life is an idea that is harmful to the heart of the movement as a whole. We all need to be environmentalists because this planet is the only thing keeping us alive, and it doesn’t seem like colonizing Mars is happening any time soon. Although UCSB is one microcosm of a large system of education, it’s our responsibility as a school endowed with the tools for change to use those tools so as to influence change in the entire system of education and even educate people outside of that system.
I assert that caring about our planet should be the same as caring about ourselves and as students privileged enough to attend a university that has made so many strides toward sustainability we need to embody this activism and become aware. Even more important to acknowledge is that the issue of climate change isn’t something that will go away, and it’s not a matter of politics — it’s a matter of survival. The planet will be fine, but we won’t if we don’t do something. This is our generation’s struggle and universities have always been the hubs of change and youth activism. So this school, in an area parched by a drought that certainly has its roots in anthropogenic causes, has been given the tools by its administration to truly make a difference and rise above the apathy of its peers to be an example of what awareness can do.
I think it’s our responsibility to make the most of what we’ve been given and keep our campus and the surrounding area as a pristine example of what youth can really do to make a difference when somebody puts a little faith in us. Fifty years ago it was necessary to physically show up for a cause at a protest, or a teach-in, to show your support for it. Now it seems less urgent because you can like a Facebook page or share a link and feel like you’ve make a difference. That doesn’t cut it, not for this.
Actions speak louder than words and this is an issue where the inaction of enough people negates the hard work of people spending their whole lives working to make the earth as beautiful as it deserves to be.
Activism isn’t just about caring, it’s about lighting that flame of realization in others to make them see why they need to care as well.
So what now? You probably care, especially if you’ve reached the end of this article, but unfortunately that isn’t enough. Activism isn’t just about caring, it’s about lighting that flame of realization in others to make them see why they need to care as well. So instead of just going to beach cleanups, or not littering or not contributing to the problem, take a role in making sure you help others to not be part of the problem. Not everyone is lucky enough to go to a school with solar panels, that’s irrigated with reclaimed water and we shouldn’t just take those amenities at face value — we should embody the desire for change that put them there. It’s something that needs to take place at the campus level, and that widespread desire to act can serve as a catalyst to cause action as far as we give the energy to spread it. We all know how a tragedy can spread and pervade the reputation of a school. But I believe that our school is destined to be known by other schools and in other cities not as a place of tragedy but as a place of knowledge and awareness that made them want to make a difference just like the Gauchos did. We’re given the opportunity to live and learn in a place most people couldn’t imagine, let alone afford, in their lifetimes. We need to be an example of how to really take care of the beauty around us and inspire others to do the same.
Sebastianne Kent is an environmental studies and French major from New York, New York.