Your sustainability choices are vital

By Julia Lankisch, Staff Writer

In the grand scheme of things, sure, your individual actions will only cause a sliver of humanity’s cumulative damage to the environment. But that does not excuse you, or anyone else, from taking part in the solution to the problem we are creating. 

It’s especially difficult to see the merit in contributing small actions to the effort of reducing water usage, conserving energy, recycling or whatever it may be, when it can seem like a whole lot of work for very little reward. The paper straw craze is a case in point – everyone was so focused on cutting out regular straws in the name of keeping plastic out of the ocean that they overlooked the real turtle-killer: old fishing gear. Plastic straws make up around 2% of the total amount of plastic in the Pacific Garbage Patch, while discarded fishing nets come in at about 46%, according to a Greenpeace study. Plus, I think we can all agree that paper straws are gross, and a lot of them have plastic lining on the inside anyway. 

However, in response, I counter that not everything is like paper straws. There are much more impactful decisions we can make, and although it may seem disingenuous to pick and choose certain environmentally friendly actions to take and neglect the others, it is certainly better than being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things you could be doing to the point where you do nothing. There is always more action you could take, but more importantly there are several great places to start. 

For most, the best environmental choice you can make on an everyday basis is eating a plant-rich diet. Animal products are by far the largest carbon contributor of any food – especially beef and dairy. Beef releases more than twice as much carbon into the atmosphere as the next closest food product. I am not suggesting that everyone adopt veganism … it can be expensive and difficult. But consider, when you have the option, choosing a non-beef option. Even one day a week, cutting out meat or even just beef is worth the carbon emissions you save, and speaking from experience, I would bet you won’t even mind the difference. 

Another effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to cut down on fuel-intensive travel, most notably flying. Air travel releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere per person on a flight, and even driving long distances are usually a much better option. Car travel, too, requires gasoline, so carpooling, using public transportation and walking or biking when possible significantly reduces the amount of carbon you put into the atmosphere for the day. I live close enough to school that I can bike to class, and I would highly recommend it. It’s faster than parking and walking, and I don’t have to pay for a parking pass. If you have a bike, try it out sometime… you get to enjoy the weather when it’s warm, and the exercise warms you up when it’s cold. 

The next most impactful decision you make, although not every day, is how you power your home. As we move out of college and into the next stage of our lives, the time to make decisions about our energy use is coming up soon. Choosing an energy provider that uses renewables is a surefire method of cutting down your carbon, although in Cincinnati Duke Energy’s monopoly makes that nearly impossible. However, you can still buy appliances like dishwashers, laundry machines, heating/cooling units and stoves that use less water and energy and make your home energy efficient with south-facing windows and insulation. 

These steps alone may feel like a lot of work for little reward, but aside from the inherent value, being sustainable actually saves you money. Not only can you fulfill your duty as a citizen of the world, but you can make your energy costs drop drastically by switching to less wasteful options. Often, within a few months, the change pays for itself and more. 

There are countless ways of reducing your impact on the environment, and they can seem impossible to navigate without guidance on what is most important. Some of this guidance can be found by simply searching the internet, as there is a ton of very accessible information online about the environmental impacts of personal choices. While any contribution is helpful, it’s good to know what will be worth the time and effort when it is not realistic to do everything. In my mind, though, the best thing you can do is just try. You have an obligation to your fellow humans to put in some effort toward sustainability.

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