“We shall never achieve harmony with land, anymore that we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive” –Aldo Leopold
This semester we learned about living in harmony with the land, except we called it sustainability. We experienced the environment in the classroom by learning about the different mechanisms that work in symbiosis to maintain the precise conditions in order to sustain all living organisms, and our ecosystems. These include things like the water cycle, the existence of oxygen, evolution which has led to biodiversity, gravity, the fact that we’re the perfect distance away from the sun, and the list goes on. We experienced the environment on a global scale by researching topics that provided knowledge on how we affect the world we live in. We had presentations over a variety of issues. I learned about Fracking in Mexico where my parents are from, the the effects of the Bastrop fire here in Texas, and ways to become involved in environmental politics locally. And finally, we experienced the environment in our communities, discovering for ourselves how much value a quite corner on campus, or a nice park escape to can have by participating in this almanac.
The word cloud shows what we got out of all of these experiences, the words beautiful and pretty are some of the biggest, but words like quality, preserve, and changes show that we didn’t just observe nature, we analyzed it. Like Leopold says, harmony with land is achieved by striving. Striving means actively being aware of our effects on the environment and minimizing the harm we impose on it, even if it means sacrificing comfort, luxury, and money. In order to strive however, we had to learn and experience, and the more we learned and experienced the more we cared. I saw this in my own life.
This year I started to cut way back on the amount of meat I consume where as to previously I didn’t even think about how it was affecting my carbon footprint. I added a basket in my room dedicated to recycling and realized just how much I can take out from landfills in just one week. When I purchased a car I wanted it to be gas efficient because I travel a lot between North Austin where I live and South Austin where I attend school. While these seem like small things, the little differences I make in my daily life do have a positive impact. While I can’t control the actions of others I’m responsible for the life I choose to live.
I think one of the most valuable things you realize in learning about and experiencing the environment, is just how involved we are with one another. It’s easy to loose that relationship in our daily lives when we’re constantly preoccupied. Just spending an hour in nature can begin to make you conscious of all it does for people. One of the first things I became thankful for was clean air. I visited Mexico D.F once, and it was so covered in so much smog the sun didn’t even shine on the city, the sky just glowed white during the day and was consumed by darkness at night. I became sick after only being there a week. It was probably the lack of green, and overflow of litter that help me appreciate the people who worked to preserve parks and wildlife in Austin.
We all gained a new appreciation for the environment this semester. As Leopold said “our ability to perceive quality in nature, begins, as in art, with the pretty.”
However we also learned to appreciate the services the ecosystem provides, nutrient filled soil, clean breathable air, and fresh water that sustains crops and our bodies, and how much money we save by not having to pay for these things. We learned to fear for the environment because we’re currently damaging it at an irreversible rate if we continue to ignore our effect on planet. It is up to us to become part of the solution, to always strive for harmony.
St. Edward’s is constantly asking us to apply what we learn in classrooms to the real world. How can our major help solve bigger issues outside of our areas of concentration? How can we become active citizens in our communities? How do we become allies to fight injustice? The preservation of the environment involves solving all of these questions. Even if your major isn’t related to the environment, it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect it because we all impact it daily. It’s up to us to recycle, to vote on policies centered around sustainability, to educate our communities on the value of nature both in biology and in beauty.
There’s many organizations students can become involved in on campus that are centered around caring for the environment. Organizations like Student’s for Sustainability and Green Ambassadors are big on campus for finding new ways to go green. Thanks to them St. Edward’s won 3rd most sustainable campus in the nation last year, they also run the community garden, and are responsible in working for the implementation of composting in the cafeterias. Green Ambassadors works with residents on how to live sustainably in their dorm halls. Wild Basin Nature Preserve is another way students can enjoy nature and learn about it at St. Edward’s. This all shows a lot of hope for the future of our environment. Right now we’re learning about all the issues, and with the knowledge we gain in college we have the capacity to come up with solutions because we obviously care and are passionate about saving the planet. The passions we gain as students who a part of these organizations will continue to motivate us.
As for me, I will definitely be continuing my quality time with nature and setting aside time to remind myself why it’s so invaluable.