By Matt Baumbach ’14
As a student deeply involved in our school’s push for sustainability, I question many of my daily activities. Questions about the length of my shower, whether or not I remembered to turn off my bedroom lights before leaving in the morning, and always searching for the nearest recycling bin (which, at Colgate, isn’t too tough!) are constantly on my mind. In my time at Colgate, I have made it a priority of mine to spread awareness about sustainability and climate change, in order to help both the school and the world that we all have to live in, regardless of how we treat them.
Often times, though, I am confronted with the question of scale: do all of my efforts, and the efforts of those who I’ve talked to and worked with, really make that big of a difference in the scheme of things? I mean, how can recycling a 20-page paper from junior year, choosing not to buy a bottle of water from the vending machine, and riding my bike to class through the cold really do that much to offset all of the bad things people are doing to our environment around the world?
Being a student at Colgate, in particular, is something that I believe makes this view all the more tempting. At our beautiful campus, tucked into the rolling hills of Central New York amidst beautiful fall foliage and wildlife, it is near impossible for me to imaging the challenges facing those who reside in places that will be first-impacted by our changing climate. Melting sea ice is changing the way Inuit communities in Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russia access food and other essential resources for their survival. Rising sea levels threaten millions of people across Southeastern Asia (and, a little closer to home, much of the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard here in America). Decreasing precipitation rates and increased frequency of high-temperature regimes is wreaking havoc for agricultural communities all over the world, from the heart of Africa (small-scale, local agriculture) to our Midwest (large-scale, industrialized agriculture). Sadly, the list is seemingly endless.
Still though, this is all just stuff we’re told. These are some tough truths that we hear or know about, and yet will rarely see. Therefore, it becomes that much tougher for us to be motivated to do anything about it. I think there is a very real, and dangerous, disconnect between sustainability as something cool that everyone ought to do, and a state of mind that everyone needs to adopt.
As Colgate students, we are afforded the tremendous luxury of working towards an education that allows us to think globally and act locally. While our day-to-day actions may seem obsolete in the global scale of everything, I want to challenge all of us to think bigger than that. Being a leader is doing much more than knowing the right way to do things and sharing that with those around you. Every step that you make in a sustainable direction, whether seen or unseen by someone else, is a step in a positive direction. Clearly, challenges abound in our future, but it’s up to us to rise to those challenges and do our part in the always-raging fight against climate change.
Watch this two minute video produced by Sustainability Office intern Nora Gordon ’16 to see first hand how to live more sustainably at Colgate: