Awareness: The Overlooked Climate Solution
Guest post by: Alex Di Pardo, Environmental Geography student at Concordia University, Montreal
Until about four years ago, I was a totally different person. Not just in appearance or with day-to-day activities, but with my core values. I was materialistic and frivolous. I prioritized my outward appearance… a type of female character archetype I struggle to give a name. To give you an idea, my favorite movies and TV shows included Gossip Girl, Confessions of a Shopaholic, 13 Going on 30, and Legally Blonde (all of which I still love, just for different reasons).
I dreamed of having a closet like that of Cher Horowitz of Clueless or Hannah Montana. The mall was my favorite hangout spot, and I remember walking into stores like Forever 21, wishing I owned every piece of their merchandise (yikes!). In CEGEP (a sort of pre-university in Quebec), it became a joke between my friends and I for me to go on a shopping spree the day(s) leading up to an important exam—while they were studying, I was sending them Snapchats of the outfits I was buying. Most of the time, I’d only wear them once or twice before storing them at the back of my closet.Today, my friends wouldn’t describe me like that at all. In fact, they don’t! A few months ago, I asked them how they’d describe me, and the top three adjectives I got were artistic, smart, and environmentally conscious. That doesn’t sound at all like the girl I described earlier, does it? So, what changed? How could I have gone from a classic material girl to someone who just recently bought my first pair of shorts in five years?
Not to sound cheesy, but I was enlightened. For real, though. I had no idea how wasteful my habits had been (well, I must have had some idea, but I guess I had no real understanding of what that meant for our planet). It wasn’t until I took a class about the environment that I first learned how pressing the current climate crisis is. This was during my last semester in CEGEP, and honestly, I only took the class because it fit well in my schedule.
I always struggled deciding what I want to do as a career (and I still do! It’s always “classic Alex” when I juggle between changing majors, adding minors, quitting one job to start something totally new, etc.). In high school, I hated science until Grade 10 when I began watching ‘Cosmos’ and thought I might go on to study astronomy. Then in Grade 11, having completed my personal project for the International Baccalaureate Program which consisted of seven portraits, I thought I’d go into Arts, and I did! I completed one semester in Illustration at Dawson College before changing my mind AGAIN and going into Science at John Abbott College. There, the whole time I had no idea what direction I wanted to take. As for my Science option courses, I took Introduction to Human Anatomy (so not for me!), Physics for Engineers (I kind of liked it but was intimidated by the math), and then, in my last semester, I took Earth System Sciences.
Like I said, I only took the class because it fit well in my schedule. I wanted to take Astronomy, of course, but the class ended too late for my liking, so I took the other. I had no idea what I was in for. The first part of the course, we learned about basic Earth sciences—how the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere work together in a delicate balance to create a habitable and stable Earth. This provided the foundation for understanding climate change.
We learned about the impacts that a 1°C change would have and the positive feedback that would be triggered. We then studied the current state of the world, and wow, was that a heavy class. At first, I was discouraged. Hopeless. Devastated. But at the end of the semester, our teacher taught us how we can prevent such apocalyptic changes: how to educate others on climate change without igniting defensiveness or hopelessness; how to reduce our individual carbon footprints; and how to incite systemic changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. And so, I listened.
I became obsessed with reducing my consumption. I watched the documentary Minimalism on Netflix and quickly reduced the number of items in my closet by more than 50%. Now that I know better, ‘donating’ all those clothes wasn’t the most sustainable choice I could have made—discarding $5 T-shirts hoping they will be put to better use is less sustainable than, say, wearing them and making use of them myself.
In any case, having less made me want to buy less. Curating my closet so that I had just enough clothes (you know, having one black T-shirt rather than seven) forced me to be super selective with the items I did keep. It discouraged me from shopping because adding more clothes would disrupt the perfect balance I had created. On top of that, I made a promise to myself that if I bought something new, I’d have to throw something out (again, NOT a sustainable practice!). Essentially, I became way more mindful of what I was buying. I prioritized long-lasting, timeless pieces over cheap, trendy ones. These habits translated beyond my closet. Anything I added to my life had to have a real, tangible value.
It soon stopped being a conscious effort and instead became my nature. Rather than reaching for bottled shampoo at the pharmacy, I purchased solid shampoo bars from Lush or from artisan shops. I swapped regular toothbrushes for bamboo toothbrushes. Rather than buying new razors each time my blade got dull, I just bought new blades (so simple, I don’t know why it wasn’t habit all my life). When buying sauce, spreads, and so on from grocery stores, I started buying those that came in glass jars over plastic jars and would use them to bring my lunch to school every day. I started bringing reusable bags to the store, and even made some of my own using a pair of jeans that ripped in a not-so-cool place, or a stained shirt (MUCH more sustainable options for old clothing!). On days that I forget my reusable bags, I amaze cashiers and customers behind me in line by managing to hold all my items in my hands, no matter how big the purchase. I also carry an extra pair of utensils with me and a portable mug so that I never have to use disposal items.
Learning about the environment also finally helped me decide on my career path. I am now in my last year at Concordia University studying Environmental Geography where I’ve learned so much more about the climate system, but also about environmental justice and other inequalities. I also took many courses in political science to learn more about the latter and now feel better equipped to truly make a positive difference in the world.
So, what is the point of this blog post? I guess there are a few: inspiration can strike anywhere, people can change, it’s never too late to make a difference. But what I really hope to get across in this is that awareness can make a huge difference. I learned about the environment in depth for the first time in my last semester of CEGEP, during the months where I had to apply to programs in university. I almost missed the deadline for applying to Environmental Geography at Concordia because I had no idea how interested I was about to be in environmental science. Not to mention, I took this class on a whim. I had no interest in it other than its fitting in my schedule.
Had it been at a different time, I would have never taken the class. I would have never learned about how fragile ecosystems are or how dire the climate crisis is. I would have never put a stop to my ridiculously unsustainable shopping practices. I would have never gone into Environmental Geography at Concordia, done an environmental research internship for the Green Party of Quebec, educated my friends and family about composting and recycling, got creative with how to divert waste from landfills… I was a hair away from being a totally different person—from never becoming environmentally conscious. A hair away from never inciting behavioral change in myself and in others or from speaking up about unsustainable politics and systemic injustices.
It’s scary to me that all this could have never happened. And yet, it also makes me so hopeful. One class. All it took was one class to make me educated enough to see the world completely differently and implement changes to create a better one. How easy it could be to create this change on a wider scale, if only teaching environmental science was mandatory curriculum. Almost every student I met in that class went on to study some form of environmental science in university. How many of them also took this class on a whim? For how many of them was this also their first exposure to climate change, yet enough to drive them to do further education in the matter? Imagine the difference it would make to learn how our naïve actions could bring about environmental consequences when we are younger—how much healthier the world would be!