By Rwick Sarkar - St. Mark’s
This past summer, I spent a week at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland at the Young Environmental Stewards Conference. It was a great experience during which I had the chance to meet other like-minded high school students from across the country and get first-hand experience in the field by collecting soil and water samples, observing professionals bird-band, and boarding the college’s research vessel on the Chestertown River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. I would recommend exploring more and possibly attending this conference for other young people interested in learning more about environmentalism, especially those seeking to gain first-hand experience in the field. This article, however, will focus on somethings we discussed on our final day at the conference when we drafted and agreed to a group declaration of environmental values (view slide 4-6 on the hyperlinked presentation).
In our declaration, we resolved “to be involved in community environmental efforts [and] conserve resources,” fairly obvious points to make at an environmental conference. What I want to highlight is how we added to these more basic points by resolving to:
Be mindful of our luxuries & to be aware of the values of others
Have awareness of the intersectionality of environmental and societal issues
Advocate for environmental justice on a local and global scale
Be responsible and sustainable consumers
It is with these four resolutions that the attendees of the conference made a commitment to social justice within our environmental work. I believe this is of utmost importance. In the past, important movements have had success at the exclusion of some of our most vulnerable (think Alice Paul and the women’s suffrage activists exclusion of black women during their efforts). As we work to combat climate change and protect our environment, we cannot allow for the same mistakes to happen. Environmentalism means environmental justice. By being mindful of our luxuries and aware of the values of others, we vow to check our privilege and attempt not to appear self-righteous in our efforts.
The final goal we sign on to in our declaration is to be “responsible and sustainable consumers.” We live in a market-based economy in which consumer choices affect the decisions that businesses make. Even as the federal government rolls back environmental regulations and incentives, consumers retain the power of the purse. Actively deciding not to purchase products produced in unsustainable ways and instead choosing a green alternative impacts the market. Private companies exist to make profit, and they will respond when they see shifts in consumer behavior. We can all make small choices everyday to affect this change. For example, think about your toothpaste. Why is it sold in a paper box? No reason. We can all choose to only purchase toothpaste not sold in a paper box and eventually shift the norm like they did in Iceland. Choose to buy used clothes or purchase from sustainably-minded brands such as CHNGE. Or check out Loop, a zero-waste way to get the brands you love, from ice cream to shampoo. Former EPA director under President Obama, Gina McCarthy, spoke to the St. Mark’s community recently, bringing enthusiasm and optimism to the room as she talked about how to make change happen. McCarthy emphasized the importance of making sustainable decisions in our daily lives in addition to all the marching, protesting, and writing to your representatives. It is 2019 and environmental stewardship means responsible consumership.