Environmental protection starts with us

James Collins

Although awareness of contemporary environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation and gulf dead zones is increasingly widespread, the paths an individual can take to effect meaningful, positive action can be elusive. Given that collective, not individual, actions oftentimes contribute to and complicate these large-scale issues makes them all the more daunting for a college student to undertake.

Collective problems demand collective solutions. Fortunately for UT students, a vibrant campus community of environmental advocates and sustainability leaders has been gaining size and momentum for well over a decade. This community allows students to join collective actions to address environmental problems larger than a single person.

I am a leader of the Campus Environmental Center (CEC), one of UT’s oldest and largest environmental student organizations and a part of this community. Since 2002, we have sought to educate our peers about the nuances of contemporary environmental issues. Our organization also serves as an incubator for student-led initiatives that make UT more environmentally sustainable — everything from tailgate recycling to organic gardening, reforestation efforts to bike rentals. Currently, we support five student-led projects: BATX, Green Events, Green Greeks, Microfarm and Trash to Treasure.

BATX, our newest project, hosts workshops that educate students on local bat species and their critical role in the state’s ecosystems and agricultural economy. Green Events provides free event consulting services to organizations in order to implement recycling and composting at events and education on waste reduction practices. Similarly, Green Greeks has built a network of representatives in Greek houses with the goal of promoting recycling, resource conservation and pollution mitigation in West Campus. Microfarm is UT’s first student-run farm and practices organic and sustainable farming techniques to grow healthy food for the UT community. Finally, Trash to Treasure operates a recycling and resale program that diverts thousands of pounds of reusable items from landfills through a series of donation drives and sales. Through these projects, the CEC has demonstrated itself as a community of students taking an active role in creating a more sustainable campus.

In my role, I hope to encourage my peers to think of our campus as a laboratory for environmental action. In the rhythm of classes, assignments and extracurriculars, it is understandably easy to forget that our campus is rooted inthe natural environment. It transforms energy and materials into products and wastes. It has far-reaching impacts on economies of all scales. And through its students, UT develops leaders, scholars and change-makers that go on to have resounding impacts on our world, environmental and otherwise.

I believe taking environmental action starts from one’s love of a place and concern for the health of its people and ecosystem. For Longhorns, our campus and the greater Austin area is our “place.” In contrast to thinking of environmental problems like climate change and deforestation as abstract global phenomena, caring for one’s immediate place — in our case, the 40 acres — is a powerful way to start being part of the solution.

Collins is a environmental science and government junior. He serves as an ambassador for the Campus Environmental Center.