Student reflection: Sustainability extends far beyond Earth Day

by Alex Mihm

Humankind’s imprint on our surroundings is everywhere, commingled with the natural. I am typing this on my back deck. The moon, nearly full, casts stark silhouettes of the cedars before me. The wind’s breath sighs through the boughs, and somewhere nearby a fussy crow is doing a poor job of keeping the location of its nest a secret. On a hillside across the Willamette, three towers flash red in a jerky rhythm. Straight overhead a commercial jet just narrowly avoids a collision with the Big Dipper. All of this is my —­­ our —­­ world, and it is important to remember that, no matter what we invent or build, nothing we can own will elevate us above it, for we are still natural beings born of the Earth. We need to understand how connected we are to this place, and then cultivate that relationship with both enthusiasm and respectful deference.

When AnnaLee Collinson and I first met to develop ideas for our new club, Student Organization for Sustainability (SOS), we wanted to introduce ourselves to the Marylhurst community at a time when people would be thinking about sustainability. The result was a screening of the film Tapped on Earth Day, followed by great conversation about taking action on our campus. Some of those ideas were shared at our inaugural meeting this past Thursday, and we hope to hear from other students with ideas of their own.

As someone who thinks of sustainability as a responsibility ­­— a small price to pay to live such comfortable lives —­­ I admit rolling my eyes when I hear some of the fluffy talk about Earth Day. I am not sure it provides us with much more than the opportunity to openly acknowledge the simple fact that we cannot sustain ourselves without first sustaining our planet —­­ a thought that should not need a special day. However, I do admit it gives us all a good chance to talk about the ways we can help. It is worth emphasizing there is a marked difference between talking and actually doing something, though, and in our society, that means honoring what we know to be right above what is most convenient and acting accordingly. That is worth celebrating.

So how can we do that? How can we turn our talk into small changes that add up? A few (rambling) ideas…

Buy less stuff. Plant something edible. Plant something native. Get outdoors a lot more. Support our local farmers. Engage with our elected officials. Stop trying to kill each and every “pest.” Put on a sweater when it’s cold. Put on a fan when it’s hot. Don’t use the AC with the windows open. Don’t drive when we don’t have to. Own a reusable bottle and never, ever, ever buy bottled water. Use dishes we can wash, not ones we can throw away. Know what we can recycle and recycle it every time. Stop thinking of animals as things. Take the time to look up at the trees. Look up even higher at the stars. Look down at the bugs. Connect. Wonder.

Think of Earth Day not just as a whiny plea to make us give up bottled water or to learn once and for all what we can and cannot recycle (though we should do those things!) ­­ Think of it as a reminder of how much we all gain when we allow ourselves to embrace our connection to this wonderful world. These walls of sheetrock and glass that separate us from the elements are not as stout as the ones we have constructed within these boxes of bone and mush atop our necks. It will take far more than one day a year to change that.

Alex Mihm is a student in the BA In Interdisciplinary Studies program at Marylhurst University and co-chair of the new Student Organization for Sustainability club.

Photos: Luz Adriana Villa A, via Flickr Creative Commons.