Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cope Environmental Center is thrilled to welcome guest blogger Shannon Herbert. Shannon is an Earlham Bonner Scholar who will blog about a variety of environmental issues and ways to help others incorporate environmentally responsible habits in their daily lives.

Adventures in Sustainability: The Why
Every child has some irrational fear. For my brother, it was the toy clown that sat in the living room (the one the mysteriously appeared in the trashcan one evening), and for my dad it was spiders. For me—and for no one else as far as I know—my all-encompassing childhood fear was global warming. I don’t know if I saw one too many commercials featuring sad polar bears walking across melted snow, but I remember staying up well into the night staring wide-eyed at my ceiling, fearing for the future.

At some point, my fear grew to a level where I started taking Sharpies and writing random encouraging slogans on the walls and furniture. (“Save the Earth! The bears need us!” or “I like snow! Stop global warming!”) Deciding that this had gone too far, my dad took me aside one evening and tried to set me straight.

“Missy,” he said, “I know you’re a really caring girl, but you can’t keep doing this.”

“Why not?” I pleaded with him.

“Because global warming isn’t something that you’ve got to worry about. That’s something that people in the future have to take care of. It’s not your problem.”

With that piece of advice, my dad achieved his goal of calming me down. However, his speech had the added effect of minimizing environmental concerns in my mind. With him serving as my example, I accepted that living green was a needless waste of time and energy, and I never gave it a second thought. Until now, that is.

During my time at Earlham, I have been forced to reevaluate a lot of the ideas that I once held sacred, my dismissal of the environment being one of them. More times than I care to admit, I have scolded by my peers for putting paper (a lot of paper) into the trashcan right next to the recycling bin, and that’s only one action on a long list of environmental offenses. Before coming to Earlham, I would have easily dismissed any criticism of my behavior, but now I find myself asking, “Well, why don’t I make the extra effort at living responsibly?”

I couldn’t figure out the answer to my question until I attended a presentation by Mary Jones, an environmental studies major at Earlham. Over the summer, Mary ran a program at the Townsend Center in which children of low-income families would help create a garden. Mary noticed that the children initially were not excited about the project, but over the course of the summer—through Mary’s positive influence—they began to sincerely take an interest in it.

After hearing about Mary’s experience, I understood for the first time why I was able to abandon the environmental fervor of my childhood and make the transition to apathy; I was following the example of the people around me. Without anyone around me to care about the environment (quite the opposite, in fact) I adapted to that kind of mindset.

Left on my own now, I’m beginning to rethink things and draw different conclusions. That’s not to say I have become an environmentalist overnight, far from it. But now I feel that I can do research on my own and start to explore the world of sustainability. From here on, I am beginning my Adventures in Sustainability, fumbling through the green lifestyle one day at a time.

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