Who should protect the environment?
We New Yorkers live in a city that is gradually moving toward environmental sustainability, but we are far from where we should end up. A circular economy in which there is no waste and in which all material outcomes become inputs is far beyond our technological and organizational capabilities today. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about how to get from here to there. Much of the work of building environmental sustainability requires developing systems that allow us to live our lives the way we want to while causing as little harm as possible to the planet. Large enterprises are needed to manage wastewater and drinking water treatment, to develop renewable energy and to build a modern power grid. Government policy is needed to ensure the preservation of forests, oceans and biodiversity. Avoiding a pandemic requires global, national and local public health systems. Mitigating and adapting to climate change also requires collective action. So what can individuals do?
As individuals, we make decisions about our own activities and inevitably, those decisions include choices about resource consumption. I don’t see any value in criticizing people who fly planes to global climate conferences. (I assume you remember planes and conferences, right?) But I see great value in looking at the importance of attending a conference and asking if the trip will be fun or if you will have an important opportunity to learn and teach. This year we taught you how to attend events virtually. There is no doubt that being at an event allows for a kind of connection that cannot be achieved virtually. Often times you will find that the financial and environmental costs of travel far outweigh the benefits. These are the times when you should travel. My argument here is that the thought process, the analysis of environmental costs and benefits, is what lies at the heart of individual responsibility for environmental sustainability. Individuals have a responsibility to think about their environmental impact, and to minimize the damage they do to the planet as much as possible.
Replace your disposable items with reusable ones
Anything you use and throw away can spend centuries in a landfill. Here are some simple tweaks you can make to reduce the amount of disposable items in your daily life.
- Carry your own reusable cup or water bottle
- Use airtight reusable food containers instead of sandwich bags and plastic wrap
- Prepare a waste-free lunch: Bring your own dishes, washcloths, and containers in a reusable lunch bag
- Bring your own bags to the store
- Consider buying large containers of your favorite beverage and reusable bottle refills instead of buying refills Single drinks
- use rechargeable batteries