Gradual change: The key to protecting our environment

By Sophie Wroblewski

Somebody told me recently that they completely agree with Donald Trump, in his idea that all this cold weather of late shows that global warming is not a concern. In my opinion, they are wrong. The environment, especially climate change has been on the political agenda for years.

Just last week Theresa May proposed the ‘25 Year Environment Plan’. This included reduction of air pollution levels, recovering of endangered animal and plant species as well as continuing to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The major announcement was that the government plan to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

The plan has been heavily criticised; the Green Party labelled it a ‘monumental anti-climax’ and other environmental groups say it is vague and not constructive. The plan makes many encouraging promises but lacks substantial planned actions that will allow the necessary changes to occur.

The buzz around this announcement highlighted the fact that the environment is a key concern of many. As we head into a time of instability due to Brexit, it is highly likely that the environment will be pushed further down the priority list in the next few years. This could potentially lead to environmental laws and policies not being updated when necessary thus leading to possible irreversible damage.

There is a stigma that environmentalists are self-righteous

The majority of the UK’s environmental laws are derived from the EU. It has been stated that there are plans to keep these EU laws. The legal side of Brexit will take years due to all the of transferring legislation, and I cannot imagine environmental laws being first on their list. Overall, it demonstrates that with the Government not prioritising environmental issues people need to step up, and fast!

Environmentalism became popular in the 1960s when it was strongly associated with hippies and free spirits. Those who are passionate about green or environmentally friendly living are often still categorised in such a way. There is an almost stigma that those who live in an environmentally conscious way are self-righteous and do it for self-satisfaction and this needs to change.

Living with as minimal environmental impact as possible is admirable, and I think that those who do almost have a right to be self-righteous.  I think there is a developing change in attitude towards the environment, along with people becoming more aware and embracing environmentally friendly initiatives.

The plastic bag charge has cut plastic bag usage by around a phenomenal 90%

The most famous example is the 5p plastic bag charge implemented in 2015. The Government reports it has cut plastic bag usage by around a phenomenal 90%. Furthermore, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said he would like to expand the charge. Even global corporations are catching on. They are realising that being environmentally friendly is a good brand ethos and is becoming almost a trend.

Coffee shops are trying to help customers create less waste for landfill: companies such as Pret a Manger offer a 50p reduction if customers bring their own cup. Costa and Starbucks offer a 25p discount. Currently, it is approximated that only 1 in 400 coffee cups are recycled. Over time, these small discounts will add up and reduce the number of coffee cups used.

As students, we are in a unique position that we can challenge the university and our colleges to be as environmentally conscious as possible. I am aware the university does place a huge importance on the issue. I know many colleges have environmental committees which are great ways to spark awareness as well as encourage changes.

Do not underestimate your power as an individual and your capacity to make a difference

Progress will be made incrementally. Gradual and small changes made by individuals will over time have a wider impact.  Students can develop these habits whilst a student and they will stick forever. As the saying goes: it is the little things in life!  One invention that has recently become popular is the menstrual cup. This is an easy way for menstruating women to make a small change that hugely benefits the environment as well as being more economically viable in the long term.

Even though colossal changes are necessary, do not underestimate the power of you as an individual and your capacity to make a difference. Margaret Mead once said ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

Photorgraph: Hagens_world via Flickr

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