Molly Parks ‘24 is an English major from New Jersey. On campus, Molly is a news editor for The Flat Hat, involved in the social sorority Kappa Alpha Theta and club tennis. Molly loves to run, write, drink green tea with honey, play with her dog, and is passionate about the importance of journalism. Email Molly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed within are the author’s own.
I was on one of my many walks through my hometown just after New Year’s Day when my Spotify queue jumped to a podcast about a phenomenon called “climate doom.” As I paced forward, my ears were filled with rhetoric about how screwed we all are. We can’t do anything. This problem is way bigger than us as individuals.
Hearing these words, I felt angry. Yes, the issue of climate change is a deep-seated systemic issue that will feel the most significant change from governmental, economic and corporate overhaul. However, this does not mean we, as individuals, can give up the issue of climate change to our ruling powers. These ruling powers have continuously failed to put the issue of climate change at the forefront of legislative priority and of corporate responsibility. These ruling powers have failed to hold the ultra-wealthy and the large corporations of our society accountable for the climate problems they have made significantly worse and choose to actively ignore. Like any revolution, the climate revolution begins with the actions of individual people. If we want change, it starts from the people and trickles up. We need to abandon the recently-popularized lackadaisical attitude of “this is no longer my problem, this is somebody else’s problem.” This is our problem, this is everybody’s problem. This is a corporate issue, this is a capitalist issue, this is a governmental issue, but it is also my issue, and it is your issue.
As college students, it is easy for us to take the easy way out. I know I can easily fall into the trap of blaming my piled-up history readings on why I need to get to Swem Library in the most efficient way. I can blame the lack of hours in a day on why I need to get this iced coffee in a single-use plastic cup, since I don’t have enough time to go back to my dorm for a reusable mug. But these small decisions add up.
While struggling to conceptualize whether my actions and the similar actions of students around me really matter, over winter break I spoke to Professor Randolph Chambers. Chambers is the Director of the Keck Environmental Field Lab and a Professor of Biology and Environmental Science. He spoke to the importance of a community effort built by the actions of individuals.
“We’re watching greenhouse gases go up in the atmosphere relentlessly, and what are we doing to turn that around?” Chambers said. “But again, I think that brings up the point that even if it’s at the level of William and Mary, is that making a difference? But, you don’t want students to despair and say ‘It’s not going to matter if I bike to school rather than drive my car.’ A lot of these things have to build up at the individual level.”
With these words in mind, I began to contemplate what I can do, specifically as a College of William and Mary student, to play my part in the climate revolution. The following tips are part of the result of my thinking. As we move into a new year, here are some tips written by a student looking to become more environmentally sustainable, for students looking to become more environmentally sustainable.
At the beginning of the spring term, I would recommend taking a carbon footprint test to see where you fall in terms of carbon emissions and to see how many earths it would take to sustain your lifestyle if everyone lived like you. The Ecological Footprint Calculator from the Global Footprint Network is a good measure, breaking down your footprint by land type and consumption category and giving you resources to learn how to cut down on your emissions, but there are plenty of options on the internet. At the end of the term, you can retake the test to see how your lifestyle has changed.
In terms of quick tips to lower your ecological footprint, here are some things you can do to start…
Tap into campus resources: The Committee on Sustainability is an excellent resource for students to use. Professor Chambers recommends subscribing to their sustainability listserv email newsletter to receive updates about weekly green efforts on and off-campus.
“One of the things I would recommend for any student is to get on the sustainability listserv,” Chambers said. “Then, you get a weekly announcement of what sorts of stuff is going on on campus, off campus, what other communities are available for students to get involved in on campus and off campus. I am really impressed with the broad coverage of sustainability topics that they present each week in that newsletter.”
Use the composting bins found around campus. Use the campus garden behind DuPont Hall. Take courses to educate yourself on the environment and what you can do to help it. Chambers recommends ENSP 101, a team-taught intro to environmental science and policy course taught by one science and one humanities professor. In the courses you take, make sure to use virtual note-taking options.
Walk, bike and carpool: fortunately, the College is quite a walkable campus (just under a mile from The Wren Building to the Recreation Center). Try to budget your time so you don’t have to drive – leave enough time for yourself to walk to class, to Swem, to The Rec center and to Colonial Williamsburg. If you need to get somewhere far off-campus like New Town Shopping Center or College Creek, then carpool. There is always someone else on campus who needs to go to Target or Trader Joe’s, so pop a text in your group chat when you’re headed off-campus to save someone else the drive.
Eat smart and eat green: According to a 2013 study by the United Nations FAO, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock supply chains amount to 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Curbing your support for the meat and dairy industries is a great way to start a sustainability journey. After doing the right research, try eating vegetarian or vegan in the dining halls. There are plenty of meat-free and dairy-free options at the deli, maize, salad and mosaic stations in Sadler and Caf. Also, try to stick to dining halls with reusable plates and silverware or bring your own.
Coffee consciously: Like many Tribe students, I rely on coffee. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop drinking coffee in single-use plastics. If you bring your own coffee cup or tumbler to The Daily Grind or Swemromas, you can get a discount on your cup of joe. If you make your coffee at home in a single-cup coffee machine like a Keurig, try using a reusable k-cup and filling it with your own grinds.
Be thrifty: Use online campus resources like William and Mary People Selling Their Clothing or Facebook Marketplace to get rid of old clothes or buy new ones. Utilize the Goodwill right by campus and other thrift stores nearby. Buy used or online textbooks from the bookstore instead of buying new ones.
Pragmatically, there are many everyday changes students can make to live a more sustainable lifestyle. We can recycle our paper more, wear reusable masks and closet swap with our friends for new events. However, it is our voices and our votes that will make the biggest difference in the long-term battle against climate change. Systemic change begins from the ground up; from individual people banding together, raising their voices up loud enough to not be ignored by large corporations, rich people and governmental powers. In VA District 2 and in the state of Virginia, we live in a contentious district and state. Join groups like the Sunrise Movement, who lobby federal and state legislators to make climate-ethical decisions. Call local leaders and tell them to only support legislation if it is sustainable. Encourage them to support the Green New Deal and other climate legislation. Most importantly, educate yourself. I recommend the books Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate by Naomi Klein. Listen to reputable podcasts and keep up with decent climate journalism. As we move into a world where climate change becomes a greater threat to humanity with every day that passes, it is important that we understand the scope of the problem and act upon what we can do individually to help.