Do you feel the Earth tremble? Are the vegans stirring? We must be nearing Trinity’s 16th annual Green Week. Five days of sustainability festivities, from vegan philosophy to political discussions and plastic-free parties, Green Week orients the environment in the centre of Trinity’s radar. Although it’s easy to get lost in the plastic yarn, it’s crucial not to forget the message of this week: a sustainable lifestyle is not simply what you do or don’t do, but why. These five days set out to show that sustainability is not a privilege, but a possibility for everyone.
It does not take much mental exertion to understand why a more environmentally conscious lifestyle is necessary. Global temperatures have risen 0.9 degrees Celsius since 1880. The rate of species loss is somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate or weather-related events since 2008. These figures are not exactly hyping up the mood, yet the fact that something must be done is impossible to deny.
The idea of sustainability is important enough for Trinity to carve out an entire week dedicated to it, but what does it mean to the university when it no longer has the green light? More importantly, what does it mean to students, whose future flooding bills will be significantly higher than that of today’s policymakers? According to Trinity’s Sustainability Policy, sustainability is behaviour “that protects and enhances the environment, conserves and restores natural resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and supports the community and society as a whole”.
That sounds great, you say. But what exactly am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to live sustainably?
For many of us, sustainability means luxury. It means paying four more euro for a falafel wrap at Sprout instead of at Spar. It means buying a vegan bag expertly wrought from pineapple skins rather than a tenner clutch from Penney’s. It means banishing the dry, comfortable bus for the traffic-dodging bike. When you define sustainability by what you see on the surface (often by how products are marketed to us), it becomes a trend you can only hop on if you spend a bit more money or a bit more time. Not everyone can afford seitan cutlets, not everyone can bike to work. When the cues from society define sustainability so narrowly, it’s easy to see how people are led to think that they don’t have the time or the money to live sustainably.
For many of us, sustainability means paying four more euro for a falafel wrap at Sprout instead of at Spar
But there is a problem with this definition. While these examples can be an important part of someone’s idea of sustainability, they are ultimately side effects stemming from just one main truth. Green Week shows that sustainability is not a luxury, nor a hobby, nor even a nicety – it’s a mindset.
What does this mean, exactly? Clue Number One: every event in Green Week is free. Mad times will be had at Nu’s swanky swap shop and the Sci-Fi Society’s screening of Wall-E, but going to them won’t cost you a cent. The first step towards a sustainable mindset is recognising that you don’t have to pay a premium for it.
Clue Number Two: emphasis on learning. The majority of the events during Green Week are some form of education: panel discussions from Green Party members, talks on the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, a symposium on building a sustainable community… the list goes on. Each is bound to be interesting and certain to teach something, but they serve a higher purpose. When we start talking about the environment and our relationship with it, it can become so breathtakingly massive, complicated and confusing that it’s easy to feel stuck in the mud (or simply ignore the mud altogether and think about something else). But fear not: as a certain English breakfast icon once said, knowledge is power. The more we learn about our relationship to the environment, the clearer the picture becomes. The clearer the picture becomes, the better we understand where we are and what we have to do. Green Week teaches us that sustainability depends on learning in two ways. The first is that it outlines a pretty clear motivation to be conscious of the environment. The second way is that you can’t start climbing a mountain if you don’t know what it looks like or what kind of gear you’ll need.
Clue Number Three: action. In the flurry of fun and learning, make sure not to miss the groups of incredibly intelligent and compassionate people who are trying to make a difference. TCD Plastic Solutions have been working for months to present a petition with over 3,800 signatures to the Provost, Patrick Prendergast, on Monday, calling for the phasing out of single-use plastic on campus. Coast Watch Ireland will release their data on campus litter and will be surveying students. Andrew Jackson from Friends of the Irish Environment will be arriving on Friday to discuss the environmental justice case being brought forward to the Irish government (which a few students from Trinity have been passionately involved with). Here lies the most important point of the whole week: each of these groups has moved forward with at least some help from students. Not delegates to the UN. Not international environmental lawyers. Maybe a few tree-huggers. But the point is that momentum for change does not always come from above. It comes from all around, and anyone who wants to help can find a way. The final and most essential step to sustainability is acting on what you’ve learned in a thoughtful, conscious way.
The final step to sustainability is acting on what you’ve learned in a thoughtful, conscious way
Caring about the environment does not always have to mean attending protests or vehemently calling representatives. At the end of the day, sustainability is a mindset in which you prioritize being kind to the planet – the decisions you make from there have a habit of following suit. Make it one of your principles to avoid plastic, and you’ll discover ways to do so. Decide that eating meat is a bad idea, and you won’t feel as though you’re missing out as you pass on a chicken fillet roll. Sustainability is not guaranteed to be comfortable or convenient, but it can be very, very simple.
Lifestyles are complex, deep and detailed, and it is unfair to assume that it will be easy to shift them to a different direction. But, encouragingly, lifestyles are made up of a multitude of little habits and little opinions. If sustainability is the end game, then changing them a little at a time becomes a far less daunting task. After all, it’s these habits and opinions that built this state of the environment to begin with. We have to start by reforming them if we truly want to achieve the futures that we and those who come after us deserve.
The point of Green Week is not to put a block of tofu in everyone’s left hand and a KeepCup in their right. The point is to start thinking about sustainability, to understand why it’s needed, to create a space to thoroughly and inclusively discuss it, to open doors to do something about it and above all, to stress that every single person has the power to strive towards it. We make our university a more environmentally friendly place when we teach ourselves to be environmentally conscious.
But don’t forget that it’s also vital to have some good times along with the green vibes this week. See you all at the Pav.