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The Campanile

It’s difficult to have a green lifestyle

Urban infrastructure not built for eco-friendliness, students can still limit their carbon footprint in other ways
Art by Anya Rasmussen

Despite having taken the same carbon footprint evaluation in my science classes for the past four years, I’m still shocked every time I discover that if everyone lived like me, we would need 3.5 Earths to sustain the world. Though my classmates and I may consider ourselves ecologically friendly people — we are enrolled in AP Environmental Science after all — we all use between 2.5-6.5 Earths each. 

The overconsumption of resources in America has brought stark ecological consequences, and Palo Alto is no exception. But no matter how passionate anyone is about conserving the environment, the reality is that on an individual scale, there is little they can do about it. Even avid environmentalists struggle to live green because of the way our day-to-day functions amplify our carbon footprint. 

Systemic constraints are the reason why we live in a way that’s so harmful to the Earth. Our environmentally-friendly efforts are perpetually limited by influenced lawmakers, a lack of eco-friendly infrastructure and insufficient instruction given to citizens about how to live sustainably. 

From 2000-2016, climate lobbyists spent an estimated $2 billion swaying legislative decisions on environmental issues. Next year, the $10.1 billion budget of the Environmental Protection Agency will be, adjusted for inflation, half of its allocated budget in 1980. In the 2024 fiscal year, the Republican interior-environment spending bill plans to drastically cut money meant for diesel emission reduction grants and clean water and wastewater management projects, to name a few. The result of decades of policy is that current legislation benefits climate change contributors more than climate change reducers.

Additionally, the extension of cities through low-density neighborhoods — a result of rapid urban growth and industrialization, is seen throughout the U.S. This urban sprawl limits public transportation and causes inadequate walkability in cities, exemplifying the little attention our lawmakers pay to the climate. As we see in Palo Alto, such shortcomings practically force a dependence on cars.

Misconceptions about staying green can contribute to non-eco-friendly behavior too. Take the three arrows on plastic products for example. These do not always indicate that they are recyclable, but instead refer to a scale of recyclability (not that it would matter, since at Paly most people do not recycle properly anyway).

Even when people know how to live green, the lifestyle can be expensive. Fast fashion shopping, for example, is cheaper than buying clothes from (more) environmentally-friendly brands. Similarly, electric cars — invaluable contributors to an eco-friendly lifestyle — are too expensive for most people. 

Despite the fundamental environmental limitations ingrained in our society, not all responsibility is gone. We mustn’t let society’s cultural norms and psychological barriers degrade our environmental consciousness. 

In spite of being widely considered a green leader, cultural practices and norms in Palo Alto continue to prioritize convenience and consumption over eco-friendliness. Amid the depressing news we hear on climate change, whether it be wildfires in Maui or record flooding in Rwanda, it’s easy to feel hopeless or overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of environmental issues facing us. When we zoom in on our individual impact, it’s easy to believe that our efforts won’t make a difference in a problem that is not ours to solve. 

While we can’t solve the climate crisis, we can mitigate our footprint. As students, we may have little control over the electrification of our homes, but we do have control over limiting the amount of paper we print, single-use plastics we purchase, clothes we throw away instead of donate and food we waste. The difficulty and effectiveness of the efforts an individual can make vary. Going vegan or limiting flying might not be easy depending on the person, but both yield tremendous environmental effects. 

Living like an eco-warrior takes more effort than living in blissful ignorance of our environmental dilemma. Still, it’s possible to find a balance of living a life that is convenient to both us and our Earth in order to reasonably lower our carbon emissions.

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About the Contributor
Alec Bonnard, Lifestyle & Science/Tech Editor and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager
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