Bella Bennett downsizes

Running to save the planet, or at least big cats: Bella Bennett, center, with fellow Skidmore freshmen Melissa Flack (left) and Megan Macomber, before a run at the school's "Cheeta Chase," a 5K that raises money to help conserve tigers, panthers and cheetahs. — Courtesy Bella Bennett

After 18 is an ongoing series written by four graduates from the class of 2013. This week’s dispatch is the fourth from Bella Bennett, who attends Skidmore College. Bella studied in London during her first semester. She is now at Skidmore’s main campus, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

I’ve been taking environmental studies courses since I joined the Skidmore community in January, and I’ve finally begun to grasp the extent to which we as a race currently indulge in unsustainable practices.

It is not hard to see that we have evolved into a very consumerist society. How many options did you have when choosing what to wear today? When deciding what to eat for breakfast? Exactly. It is however, hard to oppose consumerism and endorse sustainable practices instead. This is predominantly because sustainable practices often cost more money than their unsustainable alternatives, or involve not taking part in an activity at all.

One sustainable practice is to simply buy and consume less than is considered normal. Think about it. Do you really need six grey tee-shirts? I know that I personally own way more things than I have purpose for. Unfortunately, I love my things. The problem is, what we consider to be a “normal amount” of things is actually obscenely disproportionate with what we need. It is way too easy to go into a store needing a new pair of pants and come out with two — and three pairs of socks and a sweater.

This is in part not our fault. Marketing, the key component of business (which I have learned a lot about in my intro to business class), relies on countless furtive strategies to convince us that we need just about every product out there. And when it’s done well, we tend believe it. How many unnecessary things do you own? When I look around my dorm room, which has limited space as it is, I see plenty of things that I have no real purpose for. I have five blankets for starters. Yes, this is Upstate New York, and yes this winter was nostril-freezingly cold, but I do not live in an igloo; I live in an overheated dorm room! In preparing for college, however, I bought a ton of things “just in case.” You never know what you might need. I love this statement. It is a complete enabler though, and I personally need to get as far away from it as possible in order to reduce the environmental impacts of my personal consumerism.

I’m going to push my embarrassment aside for a moment and be really honest about something that changed my view on my own lifestyle and lifestyle choices. One of the first assignments that I had in my environmental studies class was to use one of those online environmental footprint calculators and calculate my environmental impact. Going into it, I wasn’t all that worried. My house on the Vineyard is completely solar powered, and for the majority of the year we actually generate excess power, which goes back onto the grid, and gets used by — well — you, perhaps!

So knowing this, I figured I wasn’t doing too much damage.

I was obviously wrong. The results of my test were expressed in the number of Earths that it would take to support the entire human race if everyone gobbled up resources at the rate that I apparently do. I know that I am an extremely privileged human being (see my last article), but the image of four and three-quarters of a fifth world appearing on the computer screen really put me off of my bi-monthly trips to Walmart. That’s right: It would take 4.75 Earths to support the human race if everyone were as privileged (and as much of a consumer) as I am.

This is a titanic problem. Predominantly because we only have one Earth. And, the current level of resource degradation and depletion to meet the demands of our growing population is not sustainable in the least.

The worst thing about studying environmental studies is that I’m learning there is no singular, easy way to implement or solve anything.

Because of the complexity of the issue, my central plea is this: Please try to take into consideration the actual value of the things that you buy. The value in terms of the environmental costs, as well as how much the item actually means to you. I don’t care if it is that 99 cent trinket at Walmart, I still think that bothering to consider what it is that you want to support, and making conscious decisions about your own consumption is seriously important.

And hey, if you’re all about that 26-matching-tee-shirts-

lined-up-in-my-closet kind of life, then have at it, just be a love and consider what you do with them when you’re done. Red Cross, anyone? I apologize for sounding like a PSA and not even having any cool visuals, but this is what I am currently fixated on, and I think we all need to give it a whole lot more thought than we care to.