Reclaiming Power in the Fight Against Climate Change

Photo by Olivia Smith

Photo by Olivia Smith

With so many studies emerging about the disastrous effects of climate change, it's easy to be discouraged about the future of the planet. Since corporations are largely responsible for global warming rather than the general public, it is especially tempting to believe that individual resistance is useless and ineffective. If only one hundred corporations account for more than 70% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, who really cares if you keep using plastic straws? Though protecting the environment is mostly out of our hands as individuals, I believe that small acts of resistance still matter.

The belief that incorporating sustainability into your lifestyle is some neoliberal con is an easy trap to fall into, since blaming yourself for the pollution done by corporations won't suddenly reverse the damage that has been done. However, if you have the power to boycott unethical habits and adopt a sustainable mindset, why not just do it? Allowing yourself to be complicit in ways that are easy to fix only pushes the polluters' agenda forward and dissuades others from taking action. Even if small acts of resistance like picking up trash won't change the world, minor lifestyle changes can seriously inspire others to do the same. Individual action sparks collective resistance and magnifies our voices.

Fortunately, there are so many ways to live a more sustainable life and fight global warming. Lifestyle changes can be extremely effective but not as affordable, whereas staying informed and protesting is a free, but time-consuming task. Of course, you don't have to adopt all of these ideas immediately (or ever), but keeping even three or four tips in your back pocket can still inspire others to do the same.

1. Breaking free from fast fashion

Even though it's hard to beat the convenience and prices of fast fashion retailers like Forever 21 or Zara, these corporations do considerable damage to to the environment. Not only is fast fashion highly unethical, but with underpaid workers being exposed to toxic chemicals, it's also shockingly unsustainable. Fast fashion retailers use the cheapest materials possible in order to sell their clothes at such a low cost, and the environmental consequences are disastrous. Polyester, a commonly used material in fast fashion, is mostly made of plastic and can take up to 200 years to decompose–and that's not even taking waste into consideration. Millions of tons of textile waste pile up in landfills every year and release methane while decomposing. If they're that bad for the environment, do you really want those clothes on your body?

Unfortunately, fast fashion is so accessible that it's hard to find acceptable alternatives on a student's budget. Luckily, Berkeley has a bunch of amazing local thrift stores that won't break the bank. Personally, I recommend Anastasia's Vintage Clothing on Telegraph (they just had a 50% off winter sale) or Mars Mercantile on Telegraph, which is a little bit pricier but has a wider selection. Buying second hand clothes is a great way to boost the local economy and recycle beyond just separating paper and plastic. Clothes at thrift stores are also usually better made than, say, a cheap sweater from H&M. Another added bonus is that thrift stores generally have more inclusive sizing options and you're more likely to find unique pieces that perfectly fit your personal style. Don't forget to donate your own used clothes on your next trip! Alternatively, if thrifting isn't your thing, swapping clothes with friends and family is also a fun way recycle and avoid the trap of fast fashion. Plus, getting your loved ones involved helps spread the importance of making sustainable lifestyle choices.

2. Reducing waste in day-to-day food consumption

In addition to shopping differently, changing how you consume food is a super easy way to help reduce your carbon footprint. If you buy iced coffee on your way to class three times a week, then that's three straws and paper cups that didn't need to end up in a landfill. If you order takeout and use plastic forks, that's one more plastic fork going to waste. Little things add up. Making small investments in items (all usually under ten dollars) like metal straws or reusable coffee mugs can really make a difference in how much waste you produce. Remember those free tote bags you got during the first week of school? Every time you leave home for the day, just stick one in your backpack to avoid using non-reusable bags in case you have end up having to carry extra books or groceries during the day. Easy!

Even though garbage will still end up in the ocean regardless of whether or not you drink your boba with a plastic straw, cutting small wasteful things out of your life is still resistance, especially if you get your friends on board too. Out of the 500 million plastic straws Americans use every day, a vast majority of them end up in the ocean for marine wildlife to ingest. Think about the difference you could make if you encouraged others to resist complacency and cut little pollutants out of their lives by investing in sustainability.

3. Staying informed and taking advantage of local resources

Lifestyle changes are a great way to promote sustainability, but if you don't have room in your budget for certain new habits, simply staying informed is another effective way to resist. Take advantage of Berkeley's resources by enrolling in a class about climate change or environmental policy. You’ll easily knock out a breadth requirement while also learning more about the intricacies of global warming. Accessing information that big polluters try to hide from the public is still an act of resistance! Alternatively, if you have time in your schedule, volunteering for local organizations is a fantastic way to act against climate change, especially if you bring your friends. The Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay Chapter is actually located in Berkeley and they're a great resource for getting more involved in the sustainable community. Similarly, staying updated on current pieces of legislation surrounding the environment (recently, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal) can also make a huge difference. Admittedly, standing up for legislation can be tricky and discouraging, like in the case of the children and teenagers defending the Green New Deal who were dismissed by Senator Dianne Feinstein. However, getting your voice out at protests or rallies and encouraging those around you to follow suit is essential for turning individual action into collective change.

4. Vote!

A super underrated way to resist climate change and reclaim your power as an individual is to vote! Voting is a right overlooked by many, especially young people. In fact, only 12.08% of Californians between the age of 18 and 25 are even registered to vote at all, even though 89% of surveyed youth believe young people can help reverse climate change. The pro-sustainability mindset is clearly popular, yet when it comes to actually defending its importance to the government, people lose motivation or interest. How can we rally against the world's biggest polluters if we don't express ourselves through the power of democracy?

Photo by Olivia Smith

Photo by Olivia Smith

Again, I don't expect you to do everything on this list–I don’t even do that! This guide simply serves to debunk the myth that living more sustainably is inaccessible and pointless. Even if you decide to only cut plastic straws out of your lifestyle, small choices end up being significant in the long run. Personally, I didn't actually adopt most of these changes until a few months ago when I saw how committed my friend Abi was to prioritizing sustainability: she carries metal silverware everywhere, never lets any reusable container get thrown away, and is basically the queen of succulents. Before I learned more about her experience with eco-friendliness, I also assumed that making sustainable choices was generally unrealistic as a student. Once I began to think of my friend as an eco-friendly role model, changing my lifestyle became much easier and more accessible. Leading by example works! In fact, I've actually been able to pass on my new habits to some of my other friends, who can now do the same within their own circles. Hopefully, now you will too.

OpinionOlivia Smith