EDITORIAL: Situationship or stewardship?

Political Cartoon

The month of April is known for many different observances and holidays. One notable date that has been celebrated since 1970 is Earth Day, April 22. 

As adults, we humans rely heavily on the environment and the resources that it provides. We often take and take without offering much thought to the environment itself. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created by Richard Nixon on Dec. 2, 1970, only 53 years ago. 

As children, we are taught to love and respect the environment. We are often surrounded by environmental themes that come in all shapes and forms, from books such as “The Giving Tree” to educational shows like “Zaboomafoo.” These themes are integrated into our lives at an early age and emphasize respecting the environment and the creatures that can be found within. 

However, as we grow from school-age children to young adults, our concern for the environment decreases and it becomes less of a theme in the media we consume -- unless we seek it out ourselves.

Our already turbulent relationship with the environment may be similar to a situationship. We give and take from our natural resources without much consideration for commitment to educating ourselves on helping the environment and conservation efforts, while the environment itself exhausts itself to support us. 

In recent years, the politics surrounding the environment and environmental issues have become aggressively controversial, with many conservatives defining topics related to the environment as the “liberal agenda.” According to a March 1 article from the nonpartisan fact tank Pew Research Center, just 12% of Republicans/Republican learners view climate change as a top priority, compared to 59% of Democrats/Democratic-leaning independents. 

During the four years of the Trump Administration, more than 100 environmental rules were rolled back, with areas primarily focusing on air pollution/emissions and drilling/extraction taking the biggest hit, found The New York Times. 

At the same time, environmental advocates such as Greta Thunberg emerged with movements like Fridays for Future in August of 2018, bringing attention to global warming.

Though Thunberg’s Fridays for Future became internationally recognized, other movements that individuals in their own homes can and have adopted have become popular in recent years. These movements include focusing on living a zero-waste, plastic-free, minimalist or even plant-based lifestyle. 

However, the question lies within itself: Are our individual actions just as impactful as actions that can be implemented by major corporations and laws enacted by politicians? Even if our individual actions will make an impact, will we attempt to fix our estranged relationship with the environment? 

Connection to CMU’s Campus

At Central Michigan University, oftentimes, one would not hesitate when it comes to environmental themes or even issues on campus.

Except perhaps when a student is done with their to-go meal from the Merrill Virtual Food Hall and debating whether to throw away their container or recycle it. 

Ava Brewer, a sustainability coordinator at the student-run office Central Sustainability, said some of the biggest environmental complaints she has heard are related to contamination in Mount Pleasant’s recycling system. The complaints are derived from students not properly recycling due to different rules across the state of Michigan, which in turn contaminate the stream. 

One of the many connections between residential halls/CMU students and the Mount Pleasant recycling stream is Green Teams, a program initiated within residential halls by sustainability officers to collect recycling and promote sustainability efforts on campus.

However, the lack of volunteers that Green Teams has made collecting recycling within the dorm halls difficult.

Though “environmental sustainability RSOs on campus are dying,” Brewer said the sustainability legislation has been well received by CMU students and members of the Student Government Association (SGA).

Since Central Sustainability’s launch in May 2020, the office has focused its mission on making practices and knowledge surrounding sustainability accessible to CMU students.

Beyond CMU’s campus, the nationally accredited Chippewa Watershed Conservancy protects land in Central Michigan, with 19 nature preserves alone in Isabella County.

Connection to the State of Michigan

The State of Michigan itself faces various environmental concerns, such as algae blooms in the Great Lakes and contaminants in drinking water such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The Food and Drug Administration defines PFAS as chemicals resistant to heat, water, oil and grease. 

Currently, The Department of Attorney General faces legal challenges brought by 3M, a multinational conglomerate, regarding Michigan’s PFAS drinking water rules. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a press release on April 10 expressing her concern about 3M’s opposition to PFAS rules.

“My office has tirelessly defended the sound, science-based limits on PFAS developed by the State to protect our drinking water supplies. EPA’s new standards support what we have been saying all along – the PFAS limits in drinking water are important and defensible – and 3M’s self-serving challenge to our rules is meritless.”

But recently, Michigan isn’t catching eyes due to the environmental concerns it is facing. Rather, Michigan is catching eyes for being a climate haven.

Within the United States, areas such as the Midwest, parts of the Great Plains and the inland Northeast could offer refuge for those trying to escape issues associated with global warming, according to The New York Times. 

Refuge may be found in these climate havens as the weather is far less extreme than in other areas. Phoenix, Arizona, for example, is suffering from increased temperatures and air quality concerns, according to the Arizona Mirror. 

With little over 10 million people in the State of Michigan, per the U.S. Census Bureau, the unknown impact of increasing numbers of climate refugees moving to the state is one of many questions one can ask themselves when thinking about the overall environment we live in. 

Beyond that, we must also consider our impact on the environment and what we can do, such as being conscious of energy use and minimizing purchases from companies who do not follow through on their promises regarding sustainability efforts and ethics. 

Though we may consider our actions to support the environment individually, our combined efforts and voicing our concerns can make a big step toward supporting the essential resources that keep us alive.