Laura Emily Rigell (United States, AC 09-11)
One day I arrived at my high school soaking wet; I had ridden my bike to school in the rain. My peers derided me for not coming by car. By biking to school, I was behaving completely out of the norm; owning a car and being allotted a parking spot was a significant aspect of my high school’s culture. I admit that on that day, I might have appeared overzealous in my commitment to sustainability (I actually enjoyed speeding through the drizzle), but it was typical for my habits to be questioned by my friends and acquaintances.
I was often called a “hippie,” and, though I may have fit the stereotype (in my passion for the outdoors and dreadlocks), such a classification frustrated me. I could not understand why I should be categorized for my interest in the preservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of a stable climate system. I viewed conservation as an obvious responsibility; why should humanity have the right to deprive other species of a future? Beyond the morals of protecting the biosphere for the sake of others, sustainability is also necessary for a secure future for humanity. So why was I ridiculed for being a vegetarian? Why did my fellow students often deny the existence of climate change? How could they drive by themselves to and from school each day, completely free of guilt?
I went to high school in east Tennessee, a place of conservatism and fundamentalist religion. It seemed that these ideologies often went hand-in-hand in the dissuasion of sustainable action. Religion was often used as an argument against the existence of climate change. Some students asserted that God would not allow climate change to happen and if it did, that would be Judgement Day. Right-wing radio talk shows have dedicated hours to criticizing the science behind climate change, proving that a hummer is more environmentally-friendly than a hybrid car, and generally arousing scepticism with regards to environmentalism. It is no surprise that the republican Baptists resist the environmentalist movement; it has been degraded in both the political and religious contexts to which they are prescribed.
I regret that discussions with my peers about sustainability often became endless debates. I fear that they interpreted my probing as an attempt to convert them into “hippies.” It is possible that they felt that I was challenging their political or religious beliefs. However, I am convinced that advocating sustainability is not comparable to pressuring someone to join a new religion, for example. Sustainability can be incorporated into any belief system and adapted into anyone’s lifestyle.
If these speculations are right, then I was justified in having such discussions with them. I wish, though, that I could have been more successful in accurately communicating my views, because, unfortunately, these people’s opinions with regard to sustainability do matter to the rest of the world. If they do not accept not only the existence but the urgency of the current environmental crises, they will endanger our species’ future security.
In fact the process of change can be similar to a bike ride in the rain, difficult and unappealing in theory but in reality a delightful challenge.
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-