SustainabilitySocial Issues

What Does the Environment Mean to You?

A little over a month ago, as a part of my co-op program, I was invited for an interview at an organization focused on protecting the environment. The interview had two parts: one verbal, the other written. After completing the spoken interview, I was led into a room to answer some written questions. As I answered the questions, one stood out to me in particular: what does the environment mean to you? This plain, simple question got me thinking. As someone who cares deeply for the environment, I never really bothered to consider  “why?”

And so I decided to interview Monica and Camila, two people who continue to inspire me with their passion and drive to make a difference. Monica and Camila are fellow 2nd year students at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Monica is currently a member of the campus Sustainability Office while Camila was the leader at our high school’s environmental club. 

Note: These interviews were conducted separately. For ease of reading, I have grouped them together.

What Does the Environment Mean to You?

What does the environment mean to you?

M: I’ve grown to really love and embrace nature and the environment. I like to say that the greatest masterpiece in the world isn’t created by man, but it’s created by nature itself. Just take a look at actual land forms and how erosion creates these crazy land sculptures. I love that and because I want to protect that, it got me more into the environment and made me want to learn more about it. So that’s why I care about it. It’s really about the sustainability behind it: what you can do with the resources that you have now to benefit the future. It’s being mindful of your actions now so that you can help future generations. 

C: Previously, I was kind of in a naïve state of mind – that we humans have the power to destroy the earth. That was completely ignorant because I read something that completely changed my perspective: the environment won’t let itself be destroyed by humans. If anything, it’ll destroy us before we destroy it. Earth is resilient. The earth will survive.

I don’t know, the environment is just so pretty, honestly. And it’s so important. It’s just where we live… And I personally feel comfort in being out in nature. It makes me happy. It keeps me peaceful. If I’m taking this much from nature, I should try my best to not destroy it.

What Does the Environment Mean to You?

What problems do you see with the environment?

M: I find it really disappointing when people think that they can’t do anything about it or that they don’t want to do anything because they believe that their actions aren’t going to add up to anything. In my opinion, it’s not about just one person making a change: it’s about a collective group of people all doing a simple task, like recycling. It’s not up to one person. On a small scale, it’s just about getting more people interested and being more sustainable.

Being environmentally friendly isn’t about being a tree hugger and buying all organic. There are still other things you can do to be more sustainable. Even when it comes to clothing, just try to reduce the amount of times you go shopping. Turning off the lights. Recycling properly. So just being mindful of those things. Or even what you eat: consider buying things locally, or growing your own food. It’s about getting people more involved and changing their mindset.

C: People are doing things to clear their conscience. But is that really doing anything? I don’t think so. There are other things that we can be doing. In a lot of situations, I see that people are trying to fix the problem but they’re focusing on the small details and not the big picture. They’re helping but it’s not doing that much when you’re looking at it.

What Does the Environment Mean to You?

What do you hope for the future?

M: I’m taking environmental studies right now and pairing it with health studies. I want to look into how the environment impacts human health, especially with the diseases that are going around in the world. And because of climate change and global warming changing how disease spreads. And also transportation that facilitates it really well. So looking into that would be really interesting. Or even agriculture. I would love to look into food.

C: If in the future I have the time and the opportunity, I will be able to affect the environment in a positive way. But right now, I’m just trying to not destroy it. You know, I don’t litter, just things like that. I know it’s not making a big difference, but it’s positive.

What Does the Environment Mean to You?

What would you tell people to inspire them? 

M: It depends on the person. It’s never too late to start being involved or interested in the environment because it’s all around you. This is what you’re going to be living with for the rest of your life. This is what future generations are going to be living in. Imagine that you were a member of that future generation, experiencing worse conditions than what we have now.

C: Just taking people out and seeing what’s out there. Some people don’t really go outside. If people were willing to go hiking, they might be able to appreciate it more. And just disconnect for a little bit. 

It’s redundant or not as effective if you just keep preaching that you should care for the environment because your kids’ kids’ kids are going to feel it [the effects]. People don’t respond to that as well as being physically present and within their own personal experience. 

Our world efforts towards environmental sustainability is like a bunch of people on a bus that’s about to fall off the cliff. Everything we’re doing now to restore the environment is equivalent to people sticking their arms out and hoping the wind resistance will stop the bus. What we could be doing is equivalent to someone just going to the driver’s seat and pushing on the brakes. There’s a lot more things that we could be doing. But everything’s all about the money.

What Does the Environment Mean to You?

Through these interviews with Monica and Camila, I’ve had the opportunity to think about their opinions, but more importantly, reflect on my own. While I already agree with much of what they said, having these conversations was still an eye-opening experience. Monica reminds us of the little things we can do while Camila dares to ask if that’s enough. Earth is incredible: it is strong and beautiful yet calming. We must be thoughtful of how our actions will affect both us and the planet. Start with small changes and then turn your attention to the bigger picture. It’s important to see that there’s more out there than our own little worlds. 

I think the real question wouldn’t be: what does the environment mean to you? but rather, what are you going to do about it?

Author

What Does the Environment Mean to You?
Co-op student @UTSC. Probably thinking about pizza.