Last week, Eco-Action co-sponsored an event with Campus Ministry on Catholicism and the environment, which included a speech by the executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change. In its newest wave of ads, the Catholic Coalition poses the question: “Who’s under your carbon footprint?”
This inquiry is jarring because it forces one to reflect more deeply on the effects that daily actions have in our interconnected world. As Earth Day is turning 40 this Thursday, and as the old adage says that wisdom comes with age, the best message I could give this Earth Day is simple but profound: think.
It’s not a complicated edict, nor is it very specific; however, it is by all means an important one. When we take more time to think — to truly reflect — on our daily actions and choices, it is much easier to see how they fit into the greater scheme of our own lives and those all around us.
Take, for example, the food in your lunch. All of the items on your plate did not just magically appear — they came out of the complex forces of nature (the seeds, the water, the sunlight) and the forces of transportation (the plane, the train or the automobile) that helped get them from their source to your plate. That brief moment of reflection — thinking about all of those people and entities that enable us to have what we do — can make us appreciate what we have and also to be more conscientious about what we do and what we buy.
Moreover, that brief pause — which allows us to see greater value in what we have — makes it more difficult to throw something away as easily as we do. If we do have to dispose of our goods, where do they end up? It is a sign of an educated person to be always asking questions.
It is only through the processes of self-reflection that we are able to engage in dialogue with others. This critical analysis and discussion are the reasons why we came to Georgetown: We came to challenge our minds to think about forces greater than ourselves, to enable ourselves to comprehend things that before may have seemed outside of our limits and to understand ourselves in the context of the environment in which we live.
These forces of reflection are essential to improving our roles as both consumers and citizens. Thinking about what we buy, why we buy it, from where it came and where it will go allows us to make choices that are both environmentally and socially responsible. Good citizenship is even more connected to the process of reflection. We must see our individual selves as integral parts of society and nature. We should understand that we have the knowledge and power to affect positive and lasting change.
We have to grapple with large concepts in order to come up with new ideas, breaking from the past or rediscovering what was lost. Engaging in discussions about these issues forces us to both challenge our beliefs and hone them. Out of the disparity or clash of beliefs will come new convictions better developed than before.
In both our roles as citizens and as consumers, however, we should never stop at thinking, but ultimately we must act. Never forget that an action is nothing more than an idea made into reality.
Jonathan Cohn is a senior in the College and a former board member of EcoAction.