“So… You must be one of these tree-hugging types who only eat organic and construct policies everyone gets tangled up in.” Tired of having to explain the concept of liberal arts colleges over and over again, I just told a stranger I study environmental science. Bad choice: I can feel myself putting on my verbal armor, ready to defend my choices as a consumer and an environmentalist. Ready to explain that an interdisciplinary study should prevent us from exactly that: the blind striving to organic, sustainable and ‘green,’ without taking into consideration other issues and interests. I shrug instead.
The problem is that I can’t blame them. I want to defend my life choices in the same way they do, even the not exactly ‘green’ ones. A few months ago, my peers and I shocked our professor by filling in her survey. The outcomes should have shown what it meant for us to be a ‘climate citizen.’ We started off fairly well- until we reached the part on transportation: apparently the majority of us picture perfect students flew across the globe on a ridiculously regular basis, spitting out tons of carbon dioxide in the process.
Shocking? Yes. Surprising? Not really. Many LUC students are international and/or have at least three-and-a-quarter nationalities, meaning they have to visit their family a few times a year. I, on the contrary, did not have a single valid excuse. So I started to compensate: paying more attention to local food (I can fly, but my tomato must die in its country of birth!), becoming vegetarian and taking the bike more often. Yet, even after an extensive study on the carbon footprint of different diets, I still can’t tell whether I’m doing the right thing.
Soy is often grown in burnt-down rain forests, which basically means that a shitload of carbon was thrown into the air to make your cute little cube of tofu. However, soy is also fed to livestock because its dead cheap. But how can you track down what your steak used to eat when it was not yet a steak? And how do you know where your soymilk comes from? And should you choose for the organic piglet that was fed with soy or the one that grew old with hormone supplements?
The shitty thing is that there is not really one right thing to do here: it completely depends on what you think is environmentally relevant and on the information brands and factories are willing to provide. What I can tell you is that every trip I make to the supermarket has turned into some bloody political debate with myself. Do I want to defend animal rights today or do I want to slow down climate change? Or do I just want to have some money left for a beer tonight?
No, I am not sustainable and I do not think my diet completely offsets my traveling habits. I make concessions and I try to see the fifty shades of gray in a matter that is often regarded as black and white. At this point, I think that’s the best I can do.