Environmental consciousness follows new ways of thinking

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

I don’t have the exact program for how to maintain a wholly sustainable lifestyle. I can’t give you a laundry list of environmentally preferable products that you must rush out and purchase to redecorate your apartment so that you may be instantly trendy and eco-friendly. I hope to not come off as preachy, and I won’t try to convince you to ditch your SUV for a hybrid sedan or strip off your jeans in favor of an organic cotton tunic. Instead, I just want to look at how we, as a society, are approaching the topic of going green.

The often-talked-about but rarely followed doctrine of going green — making environmentally sound decisions, daily — is more achievable than we make it out to be. Successfully going green is largely dictated by how successful we are in altering the ways we think about how we live. We have to want to protect the environment, because we need to protect it.

Going green does not have to have a super political undertone. Making environmentally friendly choices is not another issue to get debated, stuck, and lost in the political realm. The process really happens on the streets, every day, in between classes and on the way to work. It’s about using a refillable coffee cup instead of wasting two paper cups for every Americano you get from Starbucks. It’s about walking or biking from your apartment on Fifth Avenue instead of hopping in your Honda. The concept of going green doesn’t have to alienate anyone — nor should it. I’m not asking everyone to quit his or her job and join me in a harmonious round of “Kumbaya” (although, if you’re interested, I’m free after 5 p.m.).

Nonetheless, it is imperative that the ideals of green practices are implemented in our society, and, perhaps most importantly, on a daily basis. Achieving this goal will require an appeal to our entire society that removes all conversation about the environment from the typically liberal, left-handed side of the spectrum and places it in the hands of the masses.

But how can this be done? It is indeed a challenge to make the concept of altering one’s habits to protect the environment for future generations appealing to a public that sees tree-huggers as a hassle and Antarctica a distant, if not forgotten, reality.

In a Feb. 7 article in The New York Times titled “In Many Communities, It’s Not Easy Going Green,” Mayor David N. Cicilline of Providence, R.I. was quoted as having said that energy efficiency requires “a whole new infrastructure to evaluate and measure” the issues plaguing communities and stopping them from going green. He is right. However, just identifying this problem and writing it off as something that horribly and permanently inhibits energy-use evaluation and conservation is not okay. Instead of dismissing the idea of altering our ways of life to be more environmentally sensitive, we have to push past this issue and make the change in framework and mindset necessary to save the environment.

It is absolutely feasible. We can reduce our impact on the environment. We can drive five fewer miles per day by picking up art supplies in Squirrel Hill and shopping for groceries in Shadyside in one trip. We can carpool to work. We can let our hair air-dry instead of blowing it dry before class. Making moves to conserve just that much more energy does not label us as 2-D tree-huggers or blindingly idealist liberals; but taking small steps toward preserving the earth does make us that much more thoughtful, put-together, and respectful of the spaces in which we live.

I’ll admit that I am, of course, also at fault for falling into the trap of taking the so-called “easy” route. Last week, I replaced a burned-out bulb in my kitchen with a regular incandescent one rather than just waiting to pick up a compact fluorescent one on my next trip to Geagle. In doing so, I took a step backward: I used an incandescent bulb, which, aside from being common and “regular,” is really just outdated technology.

As such, choosing the regular, more common option is not necessarily the easiest way of doing things. It is just as easy to stock up on compact fluorescents as incandescent bulbs. (The extra money expended up front is accounted for by the long life of the bulb.) Doing things the way we know how to feels comfortable and ensures us that we’re part of society, that we’re doing things the normal way. But being environmentally conscious no longer brands you as an outlier; rather, there is a move in our culture toward preserving the spaces in which we build our cities, build our schools, and build our lives. It’s time that we embrace new technologies, new means of living, and new ways of defining the spaces in which we live — as sustainable communities, respectful of the land on which we rest.