Your metal straw won’t save the planet

Trying to be sustainable can be exhausting: buying metal straws, opting out of fast fashion, walking over driving, etc. But what if focus on these actions does more harm than good?

In the past four years that I’ve been attending Calvin, I have had countless conversations about climate change, environmental justice, and sustainability. I have learned a lot from these conversations- about what a sustainable future can look like, and all of the ways that we fail to achieve our sustainability goals. 

One thing that has bothered me for quite some time on Calvin’s campus is the notion that our individual action alone will lead to meaningful change. I believe that this narrative is particularly dangerous. Data shows that the largest carbon emitters are nations and multinational corporations, not individuals. 

Your metal straw, for example, as much as it is a good thing, will not save the planet, or the turtles or even prevent more trash from going to the landfill. What it does do is make you feel better about your choices and makes you feel like you’re actually doing something good, because it is actionable. We need to ask ourselves what our goals are, and push ourselves towards them, not just when it’s easy or fashionable to do so.

Even though it is hard to admit it, without more meaningful change metal straws and reusable bags won’t bring us any closer to our goals of sustainability. The same can be said about our endless dialogue: without action, our conversations are meaningless. 

So the question is, what will lead to change, and how do we get there? I think that meaningful action will get us there. We need to be willing to invest in our communities, and push them to adopt more sustainable practices. We need to stop accepting the most minimal amount of effort as “good enough” and do more. We need to come together as a community and collectively demand and do more.

So, join a club at Calvin that focuses on sustainability (such as Student Sustainability Council or Food Recovery Network), push Calvin to stick to it’s sustainability commitments and at the very least, use your metal straw as a motivator and communication device. But, please, don’t think that individual action without more is enough, instead identify the places where you can cause change and pursue it.