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There Are No Requirements to Being an Environmentalist

This year, climate change has felt more urgent than ever before. Which is saying something, because climate change has always felt pretty urgent. But with the outbreak of COVID-19, it feels like we’ve been given a final warning. Imminent climate change affects every aspect of our lives, and it’s already happening. 

The World Meteorological Organization found that the global average temperature has risen 1.2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, making 2020 one of the warmest years on record. So when Earth Day rolled around on April 22, it was especially important to act in defense of our planet. Unfortunately, it fell on a Thursday.

Saturday, April 24th was a sunny, warm, and ideal spring day at Bennington College, The kind that reminds you why you came to this small pastoral school: for its values, history, character, and community. A perfect day to honor the Earth on Commons Lawn. 

To do this, the Student Educational Politics Committee (SEPC) combined with campus artists, the We Project, and the Woolley lawn concert to spread awareness, art, and music in recognition of Earth Day. Organized by representatives Phoebe van Essche (Visual Arts), Olivia Chiossone, and Srichchha Pradhan (Environmental Studies), this sun-filled celebration reminded students that while the implications of climate change can be bleak, there are actions we can take individually and collectively to support the environment.

While at the event, students painted Earth Day messages on recycled cardboard, bathed in the sun, listened to music, hung out with friends, and browsed student-made artwork. In the midst of the excitement, I tracked down some of the organizers, Olivia and Srichchha. For Srichchha, the event allowed students to “take a moment to show love for Mother Earth,” as well as the “urgency” of the climate crisis. To her, climate action “is not about following only, but knowing what kind of impact you are doing,” – something you can do through having conversations, reading, and while buying art. Olivia wanted people to know “that there’s more than one way to help support the environment, and that you can do it in whatever way you feel best suited to, and what way you’re most passionate about.” Nobody has to commit to saving the world by themselves, and there’s no one way to make a difference. As Olivia put it, “there are no requirements to being an environmentalist.”

It’s always fun to hang out on the lawn in the sun, but the goal of this Earth Day event was bigger. Srichchha and Olivia wanted to encourage conversations and solutions, as well as raise money for climate-oriented organizations. Each participating artist was asked to contribute a portion of their profits to the Conservation Fund, a US non-profit organization that focuses on environmental preservation as well as economic development. They actively seek to grow the amount of working forests, conserved land, and preserved water in America. Some artists chose to donate their profits to specific organizations of their choosing, like the Save the Manatees Club, flood relief programs, and mutual aid funds. The We Project also showed up to continue their clothing sale. As Srichchha pointed out, the college has announced its new Silver STAR rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The full report of Bennington’s sustainability can be found on the STARS website. A Silver STAR rating is the third best (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Reporter) rank, and the school will be using this assessment to prioritize future green initiatives. Bennington may be a small school, but our passionate community continues to make a big difference.

So, beyond showing up to Commons lawn on a sunny Saturday afternoon (because who knows when we’ll get another,) what can we do everyday to support the environment? 

The answer: there’s no right way to make change. Environmentalism is different for everyone. To Olivia, it’s about “the small impacts,” whether that means “you decide to go a day without eating meat, that helps. If you decide to just bring your reusable water bottle everywhere, that helps. They aren’t the biggest impacts, but the small impacts still help.” She also suggested bigger steps, like going zero waste, switching from single-use plastics, or even just trying to use less energy. “Even unplugging your devices after you’re done using (them)” can go a long way. For Srichchha, environmentalism is about “(discussing) climate change with (her) friends… grow(ing) your connections with nature… And recognizing what’s around us.” 

However you celebrate Earth Day, it is important that environmentalism becomes a part of the everyday, because change requires commitment. Know the impact of your actions, do the research, and most importantly, do what you can. Bennington College can’t reverse climate change in one day, but in coming together as artists, musicians, and students, we were able to raise awareness, spread joy, and make donations to numerous environmental organizations. 

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