101 THINGS I LEARNED IN ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY SCHOOL
(Check back often as I add to the list! And feel free to make suggestions.)
1. Your parents will have no idea what you’re studying.
Your parents, your aunts and uncles, and the majority of your friends will look at you with a blank stare when you say you’re studying environmental policy. Then, they’ll ask “What kind of job do you get with that?” Then, it’ll be your turn to stare back blankly.
Environmental policy is a relatively new field. Doctors and teachers are professions as old as humanity because people have had illnesses and needed educators since we existed. Someone who’s trying to heal our planet and educate others about nature—that’s a new need…and it’s a growing and urgent need. The career possibilities for an environmental policy major are really endless, because ultimately everything is about the environment.
2. There are more living organisms in a handful of dirt than there are stars in our galaxy.
Life is all around us and usually completely invisible.
3. It’s all about connectivity.
4. Arguing about climate change is like arguing about how fast you’ll hit the ground as you’re careening off a cliff. Arguing with climate change deniers is like arguing over whether you’ll hit the ground or suddenly turn into a parrot.
5. You will feel tiny and insignificant.
6. You will feel important and powerful.
7. Even if an animal is cute and cuddly that doesn’t mean it won’t tear you apart and eat your insides.
8. Even if it’s got big teeth it’s probably more scared of you.
9. A school of giant tuna eats before the solitary shark.
10. ….assuming that giant tuna haven’t gone extinct from over-fishing.
11. Suddenly you can’t tolerate eating with people you really like because they use disposable cutlery.
12. Every time you see someone use a styrofoam cup, a little part of you dies.
13. When you’re trying to save the world, most people will find you incredibly annoying and bossy.
People don’t like to change and a huge part of saving the environment means changing human behavior. It’s the little things that are most challenging. Everyone loves to spend an hour planting trees, but when you tell them to stop using plastic bags and start composting, they look at you like you’re a dictator. Then, you get flustered explaining how many marine mammals are killed by plastic debris in the ocean every year and how organic waste in landfills is a major contributor to methane, which has a global warming index that is 26 times that of carbon, so please for the love of god just freaking bring a reusable bag when you go to the store and drop off your apple cores at a local garden to compost already…and then they look at you like you’re annoying, bossy, and a dirty hippie.
14. You’ll realize how little the average American knows about basic scientific processes.
15. You’ll realize you used to be one of them.
16. You will feel like a hypocrite.
I get lazy and drive to school for 8am classes even though it’s only a 15 minute walk. I live in a water stressed region and haven’t fixed the drip from my kitchen sink for a month. I’m a horrible person.
17. Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes. Just fix them.
18. Individual actions will only get us so far. We need widespread systematic change in how we produce and consume things.
19. You’ll have strange internal debates, like “Maybe I shouldn’t have children, because the world is already suffering from overpopulation and climate change…On the other hand, maybe I’d raise my kids to have smaller carbon footprints…”
20. You’ll wonder why doesn’t everyone practice agroecology, have biogas digesters, and use greywater systems. Seriously, they’re amazing and spellcheck has no idea what they are!
21. The technology already exists; the political will and the business incentive do not.
The electric car was invented in the 1835. Solar electricity is now cost competitive with fossil fuel energy. Algae and waste-to-energy projects can compensate for the intermittent nature of solar and wind power. Yet, we’re still fighting over whether to build the Keystone pipeline.
22. Within 90 seconds of starting a news article about new scientific or social research, you will google who funded the research. The old saying “numbers don’t lie” is wrong. Data can be manipulated to push a certain agenda…and it often is.
23. False balance in journalism is your enemy.
Not sure what that means? http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/sciencetoolkit_04
24. People will accuse you of caring more about animals than people. And then you’ll think, my dog would never say something that stupid.
25. When you look at nearly every instance of human suffering in the world, you see how it was either caused by or exacerbated by poor environmental management. The Dust Bowl was just one example: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl/
26. Oxygen is only the first item on a long list of things that standing forests provide for humans.
27. Ecosystem services freaking rock! The New York City drinking water supply system is the largest unfiltered water supply in the US. It provides 1.2 billion gallons of clean water everyday thanks to a well-managed watershed in upstate New York…and it tastes a hundred times better than water in Monterey. Thank you nature– and the brilliant policymakers who realized it’d be cheaper to take care of the environment.
30. Life is not priceless. Everyday we make decisions that jeopardize life on this planet. When we put in a coal fired power plant somewhere, we’re saying it’s ok for some people to suffer from asthma so that we can have cheap fuel. (Harsh and maybe overly simplistic, but true.)
31. Sometimes the only way to make something valuable is to put a price tag on it. In my program, we spend a lot of time talking about how we have to internalize negative externalities. http://insights.wri.org/news/2013/03/accounting-environmental-externalities-good-business-and-planet
32. The more you learn about ecosystems, the more you realize how similar nature and human behavior are.
33….and how different they are. I had to explain to a tourist in Belize that hunting a beautiful but harmful invasive species like the lionfish is NOT comparable to persecuting immigrants in America.
34. Most of the people who go hungry in the world are farmers. http://www.wfp.org/hunger/who-are
35. Overpopulation is only part of the problem. Access to basic resources is the bigger challenge. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc4HxPxNrZ0
36. You thought sea level rise was scary? Look up ocean acidification.
37. You appreciate bulleted lists more because they help organize your thoughts as you tackle wicked problems.
38. You start having very serious conversations about juvenile things, like how much gas do cow farts release?
39. Unlearn elementary school definitions of “hypothesis,” “theory,” and “scientific law.” http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/three-science-words-we-should-stop-using/
40. Marine biology is weird because sometimes things that look dead are actually alive and things that look alive are actually dead. http://www.stanford.edu/group/microdocs/whatisacoral.html
41. and things reproduce in unexpected ways. Barnacles mating video
42. Financial management and operations management include a huge body of knowledge and complicated formulas to help businesses, governmental agencies, and non-profits make good business decisions— the environment is completely left out of all those calculations.
43. But, that’s starting to change.
44. Oil and gas companies in America receive over $70 billion a year in subsidies and tax breaks.
45. Think melting glaciers don’t effect you? Over a billion people in the world rely on water from Himalayan glaciers. http://na.unep.net/geas/getUNEPPageWithArticleIDScript.php?article_id=91
46. Closed-loop systems are your best friends. Waste=resource http://saner.gy/ourapproach/
47. Historically, environmental policy was about restrictions (ie. No humans allowed in this conservation zone.) Now, it is increasingly about better development and better business. http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_clay_how_big_brands_can_save_biodiversity.html
48. If you can’t get flood insurance for your home, you probably shouldn’t be living there. Seriously, insurance companies have spent (and saved) billions on accessing climate change vulnerability.
49. The Blacksmith Institute lists battery recycling as the #1 most toxic pollution problem. http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/96
50. If everyone in the United States cut out meat one day a week, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions would be like cutting out 91 billion miles of driving. http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/reducing-your-footprint/