Disrupt the default: The necessity of an environmental consciousness

546

President Casey intertwined the future of DePauw University with the progress of sustainability when he signed The American College and University President's Climate Commitment, which promises to reduce our carbon footprint to zero by 2040. DePauw is working to honor this commitment by generating and funding a number of projects to increase sustainability and reduce carbon emissions.
These programs are invaluable to the university not only because they work to create a healthier environment, but also because they demonstrate the university's commitment to progress and modernity. Programs and structures are tangible evidence that the university is investing time and money, and that it therefore believes in the principles of the environmental movement.
The success of these programs is contingent on a variety of factors: alumni support, funding, aesthetics and, most importantly, the students of DePauw. These programs function through student use and involvement. Without us to implement them, they are only plans. Endeavors like the community bike program can only cut down on carbon emissions if students decide to use the bikes instead of driving.
Right now student involvement is limited to an active effort by only a small portion of our community. Our environmentally focused clubs and programs put up signs and have events that remind people to practice simple environmental behaviors, such as recycling and turning off lights.
While these efforts are a step in the right direction, the active efforts of this small fraction of the campus are not enough to create a foundation on which our sustainability programs can be built. Our active effort must transition into an environmental consciousness shared by the entire campus in order for DePauw to move forward.
An environmental consciousness stems from the awareness that everything we consume or do comes at a cost. Energy, food, water and resources all are manufactured or processed somewhere. Everything we discard ends up somewhere. There is no "away" when you "throw away" something. Someone, somewhere has to deal with it.
The work of a small number of university clubs and programs to create an environmental consciousness through the imposition of environmental concerns into the everyday lives of the student body is essential. However, the environmental consciousness is most dependent on the individual.
The individual's default is to take advantage of the comforts afforded to them by their surroundings. The individual gets more benefit the more they are able to exploit their resources. An environmental consciousness rests on the individual's ability to maintain awareness of the meaning behind their actions and disrupt the default behavior.
The changes that will create an environmental consciousness on campus are small. Instead of throwing your plastic cup in the trashcan, throw it in the recycling bin. Double check you turn the desk lamp off before you leave Roy O. West. Use a reusable water bottle.
These small changes create awareness and an environmental purpose behind everyday actions. This purposeful living will pave the way for the university to implement programs of a larger scope that rely more heavily on the individual.
The projects and programs funded by the university are invaluable steps toward creating an environmentally friendly, sustainable and carbon neutral DePauw. These programs are meaningless and ineffective, however, if an environmental consciousness is not first created.

- Junger is a sophomore English literature and biology major from St. Louis, Mo.