As the daughter of parents who work for an environmental foundation, as well as a native to the forward-thinking and progressive city of Seattle, I grew up with a conscious awareness of my carbon footprint. I never thought of myself as any different when it came to this until I got to college and realized that many people live without this perspective. Not only that, but I am also learning how even I can make a bigger difference every day.
Studying biology at the university level has increasingly broadened my understanding of our current global crisis, and it has even kept me up at night. This has motivated be to promote sustainable behavior on campus and especially in my sorority, where there is obvious room for improvement.
The first issue I encountered upon attempting to do this was simply a matter of the human instinct to categorize others and, therefore, expect certain behaviors from them. I did not see this at the time, but it has become clear to me the more I observe this pattern. For example, someone might read this and already be thinking of words to describe me as “green,” “eco-friendly,” “tree-hugger”, “biology/environmental studies student,” and “liberal.”
I am not saying that any of these adjectives are necessarily incorrect or that they are “bad.” However this becomes an obstacle when a leader tries to implement behavioral changes, such as recycling and composting, to a group of people who have already recognized themselves as something different, and consequently feel uncomfortable deviating from their personas to start caring about these issues.
It must be human nature to find a group that one identifies with and cling to the perceived ideals of the group self as a matter of self-discovery and self-protection. When it means rejecting this characterization, especially among political parties, people get stuck. They become blind. I have learned that this issue, of course, goes both ways and that people often fail to understand it. How does one ask the southern business major to defy his reputation as a die-hard Republican and compost his banana peel, when psychology simply won’t let him comprehend the importance of doing so? I have no idea.
I also have no idea if composting banana peels will get us out of the environmental catastrophe we have found ourselves in. But if I do know one thing, it is that we ought to try.