Calling Environmentalists Abroad: A Quelling of Anxiety

Photo Courtesy of Global News Booking

Photo Courtesy of Global News Booking

My hunger to have a lifestyle different from my default is being satiated like never before. I am a student at NYU currently studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, and it is equal parts refreshing and fascinating. Madrid and Europe have treated me better than I could have ever imagined. I execute my daily acts within a completely different culture and am learning so much about alternative infrastructure, schedules, food and urban pace of life, which is really exciting for me. Through sustainability, I want to contribute to healthier, happier humanity. Seeing the different methods that other humans are using to create their ideal world is nothing short of inspiring.

Being an environmentally concerned college student abroad has not been extremely difficult, though I attribute this ease to the self-gifted, subjectively unearned ‘abroad card’ I have been playing.

For a perpetually anxious young person facing a rapidly heating future, my actions to tackle climate change lately leave me treading instead of swimming. For a month, scrolls through environmental internship listings and hunts through narrow grocery store aisles to secure the least traveled produce have been acutely absent. I justify my carbon-spewing, plane-hopping around Europe and my consumption of animal products for a few reasons, aside from others’ justifications that have been easy to hear but harder to believe in.

“These practices are part of the culture.”

“You’re abroad! Give yourself a break and walk away from what stresses you.”

“Abroad is for focusing on different things.”

For a lot of people, sustainability is something new. It is a buzzword plastered on The Times that is breezed past on the way to the political section. It is in an acronym for vague regulations on new cars, old factories, and large corporations. It is a guest lecture.

This is partly because a lot of people are focused much more on other extremely pressing matters, usually a combination of their own well being and the well being of others. I once voiced frustration to my mom about perceivable being the only one of my peers focused on environmental sustainability--a fight fought alone is much scarier and harder than one fought with compatriots.  

“It’s a good thing your friends are committed to other endeavors,” she replied. “I’m sure they are panicking at your lack of complete devotion to solving the Syrian refugee crisis  or mobilizing young voters.” Fair.

But for a lot of people, sustainability is a lifetime goal. It is the lens through which to view the world. It structures one’s curiosity to find a better way to live, in all aspects. To better use resources, to better operate within given circumstances, to communicate better with others, to treat one another better.

I know I am not alone in feeling a massive weight upon my shoulders to tackle the greatest danger to humanity (deemed so by me). I am a college student. I am literally paying for structured time to learn about all of our planet’s dysfunctions and learn how to be stressed about them. It is fair to want to run away, and I have wanted to. But now, I don’t. Regardless of where I am, the classes I take, and the life I live for a few months, I am directly invested in the well being of life on Earth.

The desire to sustain fulfilling, healthy lives on this planet is universal and manifests in many ways. It hasn’t drifted away easily, and that is by virtue of the life I am living here, not despite it. To be immersed in the spectacularly good parts of being a young, privileged and grateful person is to recognize the fragility, the resources that go into, and the opportunities that bloom from a prosperous and healthy life. The desire to preserve and promote sustainability for all shifts its fuel from fear to love.

The roots of my drive to make change hold me steady, regardless of whether I am watering all of the leaves right now. There is so much to learn about, and so many ways to work for a better world. If the core problem is a disconnect between resources available and habitual, cultural actions of daily life, what better way to learn than to live?

Living as a guest in another country can be liberating, inspiring, and serve as a new lens through which to view the topics that the mind always returns to, whatever they may be. Passion and progress develop in indirect ways. I intend to do what I feel comfortable with and explore. A life lived differently is the best education, and asset, possible.