Who cares about the environment? According to some stereotypes, mostly people with long hair and tie-dye T-shirts who may or may not believe in taking showers. Or perhaps just out-of-touch, mustachioed, monocle-wearing hipsters living in Brooklyn, or maybe East Nashville.
But is this really an accurate portrayal? (Spoiler alert: No.)
As it turns out, if you live on Earth, breath air and drink water, you most likely care about the environment to some extent. To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy — who, fun fact, has turned his passion for the Great Outdoors into a Foxworthy Outdoors product line — you might be an environmentalist if you enjoy amenities such as not ingesting a constant stream of toxins. But concern for the environment is not just linked to physical security. Indeed, the environment is intimately linked to virtually every facet of human life. Whatever it is you care about, odds are that it provides a good reason to care about the environment too.
You might be an environmentalist if you care about global health. Mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia has been linked to increased risk of chronic pulmonary disorders and high blood pressure, lung cancer and chronic heart, lung and kidney disease. In China, scientists estimate that air pollution decreases average life expectancy by 5 1/2 years. Climate change is expected to contribute to the spread of infectious diseases like malaria worldwide.
You might be an environmentalist if you care about business and entrepreneurship. Some of the biggest innovations in the American economy today are taking place in the fields of renewable energy, sustainable technology and eco-friendly businesses. Wind and solar power are both experiencing rapid growth: In 2012, wind capacity grew by 28 percent and solar photovoltaic grew by 83 percent. Demand for commercial solar went on to more than double in 2013. And in the first month of this year, more than 99 percent of the new energy capacity added in the U.S. came from renewable energy. The Brookings Institute estimates the size of the “green economy” at around 2.7 million workers, meaning that sustainable industries employ more women and men than the fossil fuel industry.
Vanderbilt students have gotten in on the action. Param Jaggi, a junior, was featured in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for inventing a device that uses algae to convert carbon dioxide from a car’s exhaust into oxygen. His company, EcoViate, is launching the EcoTube and EcoTank later this spring, and already has some EcoProducts available for purchase.
Similarly, growing up in a family of vegans, freshman Chelsea Moss struggled to find healthy, sustainable dining options when she first came to Nashville in the fall. This summer, she’ll be opening a franchise of Vitality Bowls, a restaurant specializing in health foods with a variety of vegan options and sourcing from a number of local and organic sources near campus. “I decided I wanted to revolutionize the way Southerners view fast food and bring a West Coast-based concept to the South,” she explains.
You might be an environmentalist if you care about faith. In Tennessee, the Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship (LEAF) is a Christian organization dedicated to promoting better stewardship of “God’s creation.” Two years ago, LEAF organized a “40 Days of Prayer” event to raise awareness of the above-mentioned impacts of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. On the world stage, Pope Francis is said to be working on an encyclical about the environment and has been known to have a sustainable streak.
Most importantly, you might be an environmentalist if you care about beer. Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery is warning that climate change is having a detrimental effect on beer quality already. Saaz hops grown in the Czech Republic have already been hurt by global warming. Global yields of hops and malting barley are projected to decline as droughts become more frequent in a warming world.
What we label “environmental” issues are not just environmental issues — they’re human issues. While “environmentalism” is caught up in the poisonous partisan polarization that currently defines American politics, it doesn’t have to be this way. Where people see their interaction with the environment most clearly in daily life, preservation becomes a bipartisan consensus — how else to make sense of Florida’s Rick Scott, conservative darling and self-proclaimed “Everglades Governor.” And let us not forget that key environmental achievements, such as the creation of the EPA and the use of diplomacy and cap-and-trade to reduce chemicals that contributed to the ozone hole and acid rain, occurred during the Nixon, Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations, respectively. When we recognize that the environment affects us all, we move one step closer to coming together to protect it.
So if I’ve convinced you that you might be an environmentalist, come to Sarratt Cinema from 5-7 p.m. this Thursday for Climate Connections, SPEAR’s TEDx-style panel discussion about the intersection of sustainability and society. You’ve probably already seen the colorful, beautifully designed posters we have hanging up all over campus, and there will be free Chipotle burritos. I hope to see you there.