I thought I knew nature. I grew up in a rural area on a large patch of land and thought I had it covered: the birds, bees, deer, coyotes, frogs, turtles, a few ponds, lots of trees and a huge garden.
My perception was absolutely wonderful, until this past weekend. Led by our fabulous professor, 13 eager-minded students headed out in to the “bush” for three intense but enriching days to begin our collection of wetland invertebrates.
Wow, did I have a wake-up call.
I had been experiencing nature by what I had seen with my plain eyes. Creatures and plants had presented themselves to me, but now I was seeking out insects. I was looking for their defining characteristics, looking for their habitats, learning about what makes all these critters function, and here I was exploring the same distinctiveness about myself.
I was in search of a specific definition to join these creatures, yet I realized the individuality of each one.
And then at some moment jumbled among all the collecting and categorizing, I was hit with the understanding of uniqueness in human experience and how we personally define our perceptions of nature.
Within these personal definitions is where I find it hard to place the environment. Each one of us has a different relationship with the earth.
Thus, how can we collectively work toward “sustainability,” “green-ing,” and “climate change?” Lately, I have discovered how different my perception of sustainability is compared to many students.
It is not my idea is superior, it just works best for me and my place in life.
For example, I find it appalling that people will buy shirts not made of organic or recycled cotton, yet display a recycling symbol. I could even carry it out as far to say I find it ridiculous people even buy new shirts at all as the carbon footprint of a product that isn’t manufactured locally is astronomical.
Aspects of our society shock me, and I understand my views can be a bit extreme at times, but this is why I’m alright with a variety of personally-explored definitions.
I accept and encourage other ideas of “green” as long as they are honest efforts and work for the individual.
Now when a campus starts throwing out themes and goals with environmental terms, I get in a tizzy. Many students get upset and start throwing stones at the administration, but we all must realize a “green year” for the university might mean something different; they have had different experiences with nature. This doesn’t excuse TCU from meeting the needs of the students, it just means we must be patient but persistent with our requests.
As we all stress and value different points of importance, it is essential to realize we must work together to achieve feasible goals within a certain amount of time. When we find ourselves isolated in our personal definitions and ideals, we lose the ability to create positive transformations.
Today, I may not win my battle in persuading the university to buy local or fair trade produce, but perhaps I can help a friend establish a sound, student-led recycling program.
Gretchen Wilbrandt is a junior environmental science major from Woodstock, Ill.