Environmental optimism is essential


Thomas Franzem, Contributing Writer

Nowadays we’re constantly bombarded with dire environmental news. It seems like every week there’s another massive wildfire or another unique species on the verge of extinction. 

With all this negative messaging, it can be easy to give in to apathy. “Everything’s going to hell, so why should I do anything?” I admit there are times when I give in to these sinister thoughts. However, I write this column to implore the public not to fall victim to this pernicious mental trap. 

Yes, there are major ecological and environmental issues facing the world. Carbon dioxide continues to be pumped into the atmosphere, ecosystems are lost to urbanization, vast swathes of rainforest are being clear-cut for cattle ranching, and species continue to plummet to extinction at an unnatural rate. But, there is hope. Nature is resilient, and given enough cultural and political willpower, we can resolve these issues.

Fortunately, it turns out that one person can do a lot. First, one can educate themselves on the complex geopolitical circumstances that led us into this environmental quagmire. Only by understanding how we dug ourselves into this mess can we find a way out. Further, one can strive to understand the interconnectedness and intricacies of ecology: Everything in nature is related, and small changes can have rippling, wide-reaching impacts. People can begin by getting to know the plants and animals that they see every day. Alabama is one of the most biodiverse places in North America, so there’s no shortage of fascinating plants and animals to improve people’s knowledge of the marvels of nature. 

After becoming informed on these issues, we can take this newfound knowledge and spread it to all who will listen. Simply talking about these topics will cement environmental concerns into the public consciousness. By actively seeding environmental concerns into the minds of friends and peers, we are ensuring that more and more people will discuss and think about the environment.

Aside from understanding the issues and disseminating information, changes can be made to everyday life that can have huge benefits for the environment. For instance, changing the way that one gets around by walking, riding a bike or taking public transportation when possible will reduce an individual’s carbon footprint and save them money. If a student didn’t drive from their apartment to campus, they’d save hundreds of dollars a year since they wouldn’t need to purchase a parking pass. 

It is also important that we think about how and what we eat. Meat production is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and uses up vast quantities of land and water. Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet can help reduce someone’s carbon footprint. If it seems impossible to live without meat, just one day a week without meat and dairy will still lower the environmental impact significantly. Further, it is essential to be conscious of thrown-away food so as to cut down on food waste. 

Another easy way to reduce environmental impact is to purchase clothes and shoes secondhand and donate old clothes to thrift stores. The manufacture, shipment and packaging of new clothes and shoes has a significant environmental impact. Avoiding this process will help to conserve resources and save individuals money.  

Plastic is also unfortunately ubiquitous in modern life, but few provide forethought regarding their consumption and ways that they can reduce their plastic intake. Some ways to reduce plastic consumption are using reusable shopping bags, using a reusable water bottle, avoiding items with excessive plastic packaging, avoiding the use of single-use utensils and straws, and recycling or reusing as much plastic as possible.

The environmental issues humanity faces are complex and serious, but not insurmountable. We must not succumb to apathy, but rather meet these challenges with boldness and hope. Widespread change begins with individuals. By understanding the issues and making informed decisions in our everyday lives, we as individuals can be a force for global change. 

Thomas Franzem is a PhD student of biological sciences. He is also the vice president of the Conservation Biology Society at the University.