The Need to Act

American culture glorifies moral complacency, from Batman choosing not to kill Joker to politicians sending thoughts and prayers instead of actions, American culture praises those who do nothing “wrong” instead of those that make loud and lasting change. It discourages subversive actions and behaviors by painting them as morally ambiguous but allows inaction to lauded as brave and understandable. Often, I hear things coming from the environmental community also glorifying this moral complacency. As individuals, our actions and environmental impact will never come close to that of a single corporation. This sentiment, that corporations cause the problem and we reap the consequences is important, but I think it’s dangerous because it discourages people to rebel against the status quo. These attitudes, that individual decisions have no weight, only work to anger us and will never give us any actualized progress because it romanticizes inaction.

Further, the focus on people unable to alter their lifestyle for the environment instead of encouraging those who can is compliant with the status quo. Individuals, despite being burdened
by barriers beyond their control, are capable of making decisions to lessen their environmental
impact. For example, one can choose to eat less meat. Becoming a vegan or vegetarian is impossible for many people, but even without becoming a vegetarian, one can easily reduce meat consumption by participating in things like Meatless Mondays. Further, the production of chicken uses much fewer resources than beef production, so choosing to substitute chicken for beef will effectively reduce one’s environmental impact. It is vital to address the socioeconomic barriers, such as food deserts, that hinder people from making diet choices, but these barriers need not be an impenetrable wall.

Most people can reduce their dietary environmental impact, even if that simply means switching from a hamburger to a chicken sandwich at lunch. But this focus American culture has on making sure our calls to action equally apply to everyone breeds a culture of doing-nothingness. Yes, some people burdened by socioeconomic injustice are wholly incapable of changing their diet at all, and even more are incapable of going completely meatless, but most people can change their diet, whether going completely veggie or not, for the benefit of the environment. The hyper fixation on those who cannot only discourage action by those who can. Yes, it is wrong to judge people for not making environmentally conscious decisions who are unable to, but the insertion of this at every critique of individual decision-making makes change on a large scale impossible because certain groups of people will always face systematic limitations on their personal agency.

The example of eating meat is just one of a few hundred things people can do to encourage positive change in their own lives. Again, no individual’s environmental footprint will ever come close to that of a corporation, but if enough individuals act, their collective voice can shape how those corporations and our government protect, or as of now, fail to protect, the environment. The argument that individuals have no power or that they are incapable of making changes discourages active change and instead encourages passive conversation about these issues and their implications.

I, Lara Guenzler, am a junior at Stony Brook majoring in English. I grew up in Montana, spending my
summers completely outdoors. I was either at the lake, at Glacier National Park, or in any other place abundant with plant life. My upbringing gave me a special appreciation for the outdoors. Moving to New York, I really missed the Rocky Mountains and the woods. But when I got to campus, I was pleasantly surprised to find Ashley Schiff, the nature preserve that for me, feels like home.


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