By 2050, we could live in a world where orangutans and honeybees are extinct, half the Amazon has been cut down, and there are more plastic than fish in the ocean. Why does environmental sustainability matter, and what can we do?
Humans tend to center ourselves when we think about life on Earth, but we need nature more than we realize. The environment provides the resources we need to survive, regulates the climate, and even boosts our mood. In short, the planet makes it possible for us to live and thrive – and we are not alone. As many as 12 million species may share our planet with us, and each has a valuable role to play, from tigers to tiger beetles.
Shrewd conservationists pitch wildlife as providing resources and cleaning up our messes. Plant species create life-saving medicine, vultures prevent carrion from making us sick, and pollinators like bees and butterflies provide one in every three bites of food we eat.
But species are vanishing at an alarming rate, often before we truly know what we’ve lost. Ecologists liken this to loosening the rivets on an airplane wing. Removing a single rivet may not make a large difference, but eventually the plane will reach a tipping point and fall apart. With our resources, health, and wellbeing at risk, how many more species can we afford to lose?
Right now, humanity is in the middle of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. Nearly 70% of species worldwide have gone extinct since 1970 due to human overexploitation. However, we can also be the solution.
Two of the most important actions we can take today are reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and setting aside protected habitat for endangered species. Both of these can and should be done on any scale, from individuals to nations.
As consumers, we need to think about our purchasing choices and how we can make them more sustainable. Some simple ways to start are choosing products certified by a conservation organization, like Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee and Forest Stewardship Council paper products. Both of these groups work to prevent deforestation and create Fair Trade programs for workers to benefit people and the planet.
We can also avoid purchasing products that harm the environment, like clothes made with fossil fuel-based synthetic fibers or single-use plastic like bags and packaging that infiltrates our waterways and puts our health at risk. Similarly, we can positively impact our own backyard ecosystems by avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides, which run off yards into local waterways, polluting water sources and killing wildlife.
In our homes, we can also reduce our energy consumption, from installing solar panels so we no longer rely on fossil fuels to putting on a jacket instead of raising the thermostat. At my house, we use strip plugs with an ‘off’ switch so we can prevent running electronics from sucking up ‘vampire energy’, which adds to the Earth’s warming and our energy bill.
On a global level, many countries have pledged to conserve 30% of the Earth’s surface by 2030. This is a good start, but we must encourage our legislators to advocate for endangered species by pledging financial support toward conservation efforts, regulating the illegal wildlife trade, investing in renewable energy, curbing plastic pollution, and adding plants and animals in decline to their endangered species lists.
In the end though, conservation depends on community support. The single most important thing any of us can do for our world is educate and engage others with our beautiful planet. At TCU, I write for our student media as an environmental reporter, create social media posts for the campus Sustainability Committee, and co-founded the Student Sustainability Council to raise awareness and promote sustainable campus initiatives to my peers. The response has been overwhelmingly positive as many students learn about conservation issues like light pollution and sustainable palm oil plantations for the first time.
More than anything, conservation is about collaboration. In its first semester, the Student Sustainability Council organized community cleanups, planned a campus pollinator garden, and hosted TCU’s first-ever sustainable clothing swap to encourage students to swap or shop secondhand. After I graduate, I will be able to look back and realize I left a lasting legacy for wildlife at my university.
Next semester, I will continue to improve campus sustainability by serving as the president of the TCU Rhino Initiative Club. The group was founded by students who traveled to South Africa on a study abroad trip and learned about the rhino poaching crisis, where a rhino is killed by poachers for its horn every day. While our funds will continue to support rhino conservation initiatives abroad, I am changing our outlook to ‘Think global, act local’ to inspire my classmates to appreciate the wildness in our own backyards. We’ll clean up nearby parks, invite guest speakers from local conservation organizations, and take action as consumers to reduce our resource use and spread the word about local wildlife.
Our planet’s greatest hope comes from its most important stakeholders: future generations of people and wild species. We are merely placeholders, and it is our duty to leave the planet better than we found it for those who come after us. The need for protecting vulnerable species is ever-growing, but so are sustainable solutions, innovated and executed by people driven to save the planet and our posterity, and I have great hope for the future. My experience with conservation has taught me so much about what it means to be an advocate for nature. I have much more to learn, and I have the work ethic, passion, and collaborative spirit to make a difference given the means. Will you help me along the way?
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.