Ben Goldberger headshot

As we waited for the results of the 2020 presidential election, politics had taken over seemingly every media platform. Between TikTok, Facebook and cable news, politics have become seemingly unavoidable. 

Truthfully, we all should be paying attention to this election because it very well decides the soul of our country. This doesn’t mean that we should exclusively consume election news all the time. Doing so will undoubtedly take a heavy toll on your mental health, and you should take breaks from time to time.

I easily could’ve written about topics surrounding the elections that took place this month, topics that only feed into the media tsunami of election coverage. Instead, I decided to write about something away from the suspense of our nation’s well being, something a little more approachable. 

Our planet’s health has been on a consistent decline for years and years, with temperatures rising and natural disasters and storms becoming more frequent and extreme. We’ve seen trash flood our rivers, ponds and oceans, harming the wildlife that live in and around these bodies of water. Parts of America and Australia have been on fire for months at a time, creating poor breathing conditions and an orange haze that encompasses the entire skyline. Our Earth is flat out crumbling under the tremendous pressure that we as a species have put on it, and if we don’t do something within the next decade or two, we might never be able to save our homeland. 

The director of Environmental Studies at UT Michael McKinney speaks to the urgency we must take to become more eco-conscious, explaining that “unless we are better stewards of our environment, future generations will be forced to suffer the consequences of polluted air, water and depleted resources.” Not only are we damaging our health by ignorantly damaging the environment, but we are also destroying the futures of generations to come. 

I know I said I was writing about an approachable issue and a globally diminishing environment sounds like anything but that, yet there are surprisingly many easy actions that you can take to create a more eco-conscious society. Even for those who are living on campus and therefore have some limits on their lifestyle, there are plenty of ways to live more sustainably. 

One way that we all can limit our environmental impact is by using fewer single use products. Probably the easiest one to eliminate from our daily lives is bottled water. Plastic water bottles never decompose, even when they are recycled, only slowly breaking down into microplastics that eventually find their way into the ocean and pollute the living organisms inside of it. 

Also, the process to make and ship the bottles uses an immense amount of fossil fuels that contribute largely to the amount of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. All aspects of this product destroy the planet, and it is way too easy to stop using bottled water regularly to justify ignoring the impact that it has. 

Whether you live off of campus and have a full kitchen or live in a community style dorm, you can absolve the need for bottled water by purchasing a water filtering pitcher and a reusable water bottle. There are plenty of filtration products that make the need for bottled water obsolete and can easily fit into your mini fridge in your dorm. There are also water bottle spouts on most of the water fountains in the dorms and university buildings where you can refill your reusable water bottles. This is an easy lifestyle switch that you can make with minimal effort that creates a large positive impact on the health of our planet. 

McKinney also suggests that an easy way to limit your environmental footprint is to eat less meat and more local, organic foods. I know that for those who live on campus, there are not very many opportunities for you to hand select the ingredients that make up your dinner. Luckily, the dining halls on campus make it extremely easy to incorporate more meatless options into your diet. Both the PCB Café and The Fresh Food Company in Stokely Hall consistently have a vegan and vegetarian station open that rotate food options frequently. You don’t have to cut out meat cold turkey, but by eating at the meatless stations once or twice a week, you are cutting down your environmental impact exponentially. 

We the student body also have the power to adjust university policies and actions to be more eco-conscious. Students have had large impacts on UT behavior in the past, fighting to include healthier food options and more recycling on campus. We also saw an uproar in student support backing petitions to ban the Styrofoam containers being used for takeout from the dining halls during a two week period where dine-in options were restricted. You can read the Beacon’s story on the movement ignited by SpeakUTK at utdailybeacon.com. The student body has a tremendous voice in how the university acts, and we can use it to create a more environmentally friendly campus. 

We have taken the Earth for granted for practically our entire time on this planet, depleting it of its resources and spewing pollutants into the atmosphere with no remorse. Our consumer culture creates a society that can only be sustainable with unlimited resources, something that is irresponsible and unachievable. It is time for us as a human race to take a look at the impact that we’ve had on our planet and start backpedaling to a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. 

“As the saying goes, we borrow the Earth from future generations,” McKinney said, “it is not ours to destroy.”

Ben Goldberger is a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He can be reached atbgoldbe3@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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