The Little Big Changes – how big is your backyard?

I received my Bachelors in Ecosystems and Human Impact (Sustainability Studies Program) this May from Stony Brook University. It’s a multidisciplinary program which covers variety of subjects in sustainability – from economics, environmental chemistry to anthropology and ecology. As I plan my courses, my advisors often asked me and my other peers ‘what do you want to do with this major? Why are you in this program?’. Some answers from my peers were simple – ‘to get a job at a company’, ‘I want to work for this non-profit’. But I always had a hard time answering that question. I had so many dreams, I just didn’t know how to answer it. My usual answer was ‘well..I’m not sure. But I want to do something to change the world. I just don’t know how to do that yet’. My answer was mostly about how than what.

Climate Change is a concept that’s familiar to most of the people these days, no matter what age you are or what you do for your living. When it comes to climate change, the people tend to think about the ‘big’ issues the media covers – melting glaciers and suffering polar bears, the Amazon forest on fire, hurricanes and flooded coastal zones….etc. However, today, I’d like to talk about the ‘small’ changes we can make to solve these big issues.

I do understand and value the need and significance of macro-analysis on certain issues such as global climate change trend or ocean temperature changes. Actions on those issues usually take places in much larger scales by much powerful people with bigger powers. However, I think the changes in current environmental conditions can happen in better ways if we focus more on smaller issues.

I always believed that there are two ways to change the world – through society-level changes, and through education. Society-level changes requires changes in laws and regulation. Enforcement of regional/national/global policies can make a huge difference. However, it also requires many pre-conditions – educated voters, responsible elected officials who are willing to work for their voters, policies that can work despite the disagreement from certain interest groups, and most importantly, people’s will to make changes. Our societies have achieved many things through this way so far. We achieved racial equality, women’s right to vote…etc. Leaders of the world carried out agreements such as the Tokyo Protocol and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change this way.

However, the changes and the people’s passion towards change never stopped growing. The main driving force behind this was education. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘educate’ as ‘to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction’. People has been teaching what is right and just at schools and at home. People in different generations developed their ideas, grew their passion and acted based on their beliefs. This process allowed the citizens to show their opinions through our election system, legal processes, and policy-making procedures. The cycle of changes and education continues. I believe it’s very simple and basic like this when it comes to environmental education as well.

Education is more than the kind that happens in classrooms. Education happens when parents take their children out to go camping, or even when a child learn how to put trash in a trashcan, or when they start to learn how to appreciate what they have around them. I believe those ‘big’ decisions and actions are ultimately for those who are around us. Look around you. Nothing you’ll see is new. Your family, trees on the streets, and the birds singing by the window. It will be all gone if we don’t do anything. However, how often do we pay attention to these when we talk about Climate Change?

Different people take Climate Change issues differently. Some cares a lot more than others, and some doesn’t necessarily care about it at all. Some people see themselves as a global citizen and fight for the deforestation issue of the Amazon in New York. Some people see themselves as just simply one of the 7.7 billion people on this planet who can’t make any differences in this world. However, one thing we’re all forgetting here together is that we all share the responsibilities and impacts of the results together.

            I’d like to ask one question to the readers. How big is your backyard? Your backyard can be the Amazon forest, or the entire Pacific Ocean, or the size of your actual backyard. This is a question about ourselves and our future. To what extent, can we make changes by taking actions in this world?

I’m a student who studies sustainability from variety of perspectives. Scholars and students often make a mistake by thinking that everyone should know everything about the environment because it’s important. My opinion is little different. I believe that not everyone has to be ecologist or environmental scientists to do their parts on this issue.  

I believe that the big changes can always start from smaller thoughts – as small as the little tree that’s growing in your backyard. I strongly believe that if we could create the culture can make one child at home to appreciate the tree shades at their own backyard, and make them wonder what they can do for the trees to pay back to them, that’d be a great step forward for the humanities and for the environment. When we can make everyone to look at the world around them this way, we will be able to change the world and our societies and people, region by region and one by one.

Personally, I’m still not entirely sure if I can answer to myself about how I want to change the world. But I have confidence in one thing for sure. Doing what I can do in the best way possible is the best thing I can do. After reading this, look around yourself, and ask yourself the same question. How big is my backyard? How are you going to change the world? HJ

Hogyeum Joo recently graduated from SUNY Stony Brook’s Sustainability Studies Program with honors. (BA in Ecosystems and Human Impact)  With his passion towards environmental sustainability and environmental awareness, Hogyeum is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Sustainability Management at Columbia University in the City of New York. He also serves as an Alumni Representative for the Friends of Ashley Schiff Preserve, a community-based environmental organization based in Stony Brook, New York.


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