It’s hard not to worry about climate change when the weather jumps from warm and sunny, to cold and snowy, every other day here in Binghamton. If you want to start taking individual actions to help the environment, it can feel overwhelming to learn how to reduce your carbon footprint due to the excess of information on the internet. Luckily, the Binghamton University Libraries boiled down all of the beginner information for leading a more sustainable life in the panel discussion, “Simply Sustainable: Resources and Strategies for Living a More Sustainable Life, One Step at a Time.”
On March 10, the event was moderated and hosted by Jennifer Embree, a subject librarian at BU, and Neyda Gilman, nursing and pharmacy librarian at BU. “Resilient Communities: Libraries Respond to Climate Change,” an initiative of the American Library Association, provided a grant for the BU libraries to create and hold programs that are related to climate change and sustainability. The event Wednesday evening discussed tips for making individual choices to help the planet, reduce your waste and live a more environmentally friendly life.
Sophia Murphy, a sophomore majoring in environmental studies, grew up going to a farm camp where she was taught how to farm in a sustainable way and how to make ethical eating choices. Her tips for living more sustainably included preventing as much waste as you can, but not beating yourself up if you are unable to do so in every aspect of your life. Murphy explained how campus dining is takeout only, which involves single-use items. But, there are other ways to reduce your waste, such as using a reusable water bottle or a wooden toothbrush and toothpaste pellets, if you can afford them. Murphy also explained the power of your dollars when it comes to sustainability.
“The power of your dollars is like not giving your money to certain organizations,” Murphy said. “It’s easy to order from Amazon, I’m guilty of it. I think everyone is. But, just being conscious of where that is going, and if you are going to, they have options on how to get sustainable packaging that’s compostable or recyclable.”
Mona Porter, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, shared her experiences with environmental racism. Porter, who grew up in Queens and Brooklyn, spoke about toxic waste and the effects of Hurricane Sandy on her neighborhood. Porter also shared what inspired her to become more educated on sustainable living and climate change.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really see people like me being a leader and representing low-income communities,” Porter said. “People who aren’t of color can also go through that, but it’s disproportionate. So, from there, I decided I wanted to be the type of person I was looking for as a child.”
Porter recently interned with Sustainable Westchester, a clean energy company that grants low-income communities better access to cleaner energy for cheaper prices. She also shared how to educate oneself easily on living more sustainably. Porter suggested watching YouTubers and taking advantage of social media. She also said to look into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which enforces environmental protection laws and is focused on protecting human health and the environment by ensuring clean air, water and land. Porter also explained how learning about reducing your carbon footprint can actually be fun and simple.
“Inch it slowly into your life and then you’ll realize that you don’t have to stress out about it,” Porter said.
Murphy and Porter were representing BU’s student chapter of Zero Hour. The club has not been able to do many events due to the pandemic, but they have held some, such as reusable bubble tea straw fundraisers. Overall, their goal is to encourage BU students to live more sustainably.
“We’re trying to get students to be more aware of their footprint on campus, Broome County and even beyond that,” Murphy said.
Josias Bartram, library director at Broome County Public Library, explained why he feels it’s important to actively fight against climate change. He believes it combats the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that come with the fears of environmental crises. Even if change only manifests in small ways, it is better to be an active, rather than a passive, victim. Bartram also shared his opinion on the importance of being sustainable for the sake of helping future generations.
“We’re creating a debt that is being borne by people younger than us, and you know this has been going on for some time in our society, but the issue is escalating,” Bartram said. “I think a major reason for those of us who have kids is not to burden our children with all of our mess we don’t want to deal with.”
Adam Flint, director of clean energy programs at the Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow (NEST), discussed ways students can take impactful actions to help the environment. Some of his ideas included influencing parents to get an energy assessment. Understanding your energy footprint within your home and the transportation you use are important steps to living more sustainably. Flint also shared that undergraduate students have more power than anyone in a university, and they can influence the choices their school makes if they take action.
“Students are unaware of their power,” Flint said. “If they know their power, they have more power to move institutions than anybody. You’re going to be there four years max and then you’re gone, so use that power to make sure the institution is not supporting fossil fuels, through its investments and making sure that it is on the cutting edge in terms of its own operations.”
Kate Miller-Corcoran, development and communication manager at Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments (VINES), shared her knowledge on sustainability and what VINES is all about. VINES is a local nonprofit committed to creating a sustainable and just community food system. VINES has community gardens, an urban farm in Downtown Binghamton and a farm share program. Miller-Corcoran also shared a small-scaled first step toward living a more sustainable life that any college student could easily do.
“Start cutting down on your single-use plastics,” Miller-Corcoran said. “Go buy a reusable water bottle. It sounds simple, but if everybody bought a reusable water bottle, that would save around 156 water bottles from ending up in the ocean. So, if everybody saved 156 plastic bottles from going into the ocean, that would be a really good start.”
Another simple step you can take which will help the environment and your own health is walking and biking. Flint shared that by this time next year, Binghamton’s Route 434 Greenway, which will be a bike trail from MacArthur Park to BU, will have been completed. This bike trail would allow students to bike or walk downtown from campus without having to be on the street at all.
The panelists also shared resources such as books and documentaries that they recommend reading or watching. Murphy suggested “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” a documentary I myself have personally watched when I was switching to a vegetarian diet. The documentary discusses the environmental issues with the animal agriculture industry.
Overall, students can take a variety of steps to help the environment and reduce their carbon footprint. Whether that is gardening, opting out of meat on meatless Mondays, joining student organizations or walking rather than driving, each action counts. At times, it can feel pointless to perform these actions, but the panelists all agreed every step toward sustainability is worthwhile.
“Even just those small little ways can make a really big difference,” Murphy said.