Last semester as we were studying for our North American Environmental History exam, a friend of mine asked me what environmentalism meant, to which I responded, "a hyper-awareness of how everything you do affects the world around you." At the time it surprised me how easily I had come up with that definition, but I guess it has been something that I have been thinking about a lot in the past year or so. In in a simple yet comprehensive way, I think this definition captures the essence of the environmental movement. In recent months, I have begun the transition from ignorance and obliviousness to deep eco-awareness, and have altered my behaviors accordingly. From phasing out the use of plastic water bottles and the consumption of meat (yes you heard me right - as shocking as it is to myself and to those who know me well, I am pretty confident I am slowly but surely becoming a vegetarian. More to come on this decision in further postings.), to taking public transportation - or even no transportation at all - I am restructuring my lifestyle to become one that has less of an impact on the natural world.
This type of awareness is vital for the long-term success of our nation today. We need to transform the national consciousness from one of eco-ignorance to eco-awareness. It is also essential that this awareness does not sit idle, but translates into action (awareness does little good if behaviors remain constant). Today, a staggering 95 percent of the scientific community believes in climate change, but how does this number translate into action? This benchmark, identifying the problem, is only half the battle. A nationwide transition to eco-awareness can be facilitated by reliable, easily accessible information that links consumers with products that reflect their desire to reduce their impact on the environment.
Fortunately, a lot of this information is available already: Detailed, minute-by-minute energy performance consoles are installed in some high tech green buildings, allowing residents to monitor (and curb) their energy use. New cars are being outfitted with computers that can calculate and display key driving statistics, among them miles per gallon. Grocery stores are now offering more information about the food we eat, including nutritional facts, country or state of origin, organic certification, etc. Even corporate mammoths are jumping on the bandwagon – Walmart is set to unveil a “sustainability index” on all of the products on its shelves, giving shoppers an unprecedented window into the production of the goods they buy. These mutually reinforcing trends – consumers becoming more aware and demanding more sustainable products, and producers releasing more information about their goods – have the tremendous potential to influence the direction of the market in the coming years.
It is important never to underestimate the power we have as consumers to demand socially and environmentally just products. One of my favorite quotes from Food, Inc., a recent documentary which reveals the complexities and corruption of our industrialized food system, explains: “When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting for local or not, organic or not.” The same idea can be expanded to all consumer products. Every time we buy something, we endorse the system through which that product was created. So take advantage of the information that is out there, and start voting for products which deserve our support. What do you say we facilitate the nation’s transition from eco-ignorance to eco-awareness together?