Eco versus ego

Margot Rosenblatt

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Almost every day in my F period class last year, one of my classmates attempted to throw his plastic bottle like a basketball across the room into the trash can. I’m sure everyone has seen this. Naturally, my classmate’s actions annoyed me; each bottle not recycled contributes to the death of plants and wildlife when it breaks down and seeps into the soil. Every time he attempted (mostly unsuccessfully) to be LeBron, I would walk up to the trash can, take the bottle out, and walk it the ten or so feet outside of the classroom to the recycling bin. My classmate’s behavior didn’t upset me because he wouldn’t recycle. It upset me because it signified something much bigger: that we as an institution, students and teachers alike, have an extremely blasé and frankly harmful attitude towards environmental issues.

The first sign that Horace Mann students don’t give the environment its due is our attitude towards learning about it.  I’m sure we’ve all had many scintillating conversations about honors and AP classes. To us, the competitive and highly accomplished few, these classes are not just a measure of intelligence, but a measure of ambition and potential. So when the talk last year inevitably turned to my classes, I declared to my peers with the utmost pride and self-respect that I was currently enrolled in AP Environmental Science. I received a range of similar responses: my peers declared “that’s not a real AP” or “that’s not a real science.” The fact that Horace Mann students don’t consider environmental science a legitimate class shows how much our education regarding our current earth has failed us.

Let me take a step back for a moment to defend AP Environmental Science. First of all, it was the third hardest AP last year according to College Board data. Secondly, while my fellow “enviro” classmates and I may not have drowned miles off shore like those in AP Chemistry, I believe the material we learned is of much more value in our day-to-day lives. When I’m an adult buying groceries, it’s far more important for me to think to check if the food I’m buying is sustainably sourced than reflect on electron orbitals or event horizons.

Besides its many useful applications, enviro seems like the next natural step in scientific education. So you’ve learned biology, chemistry, and physics, now apply it to the real world in ways that matter. Yes, “physics is everywhere,” but environmental science is equally pervasive in our everyday lives. It’s more that just the culmination of everything we’ve been taught: enviro teaches us why we study science. We study it to see the beauty in the world around us and to help the earth and its inhabitants. The “Environment” is defined as our surroundings, especially our immediate ones. Therefore, the study of our environment is practical – so we are not limited to the theoretical.

As for why we should take environmental science much more seriously as a class, the answer is obvious: climate change is the defining issue of our time. In a few hundred years, we will either be remembered as the generation who took action, or as the generation who quite literally destroyed the world. The earth itself is the endgame, so what we do in the next couple years can tip the balance between life and death for the entire world. This is important. We have to keep constantly moving towards a greener future. Environmental change is our future, and since we as Horace Mann students are the future of leaders and innovators, we need to think about this issue because it defines who we are as a generation. So, why don’t we talk about this more? Why don’t we learn about it in every class? How can we be well educated, informed adults without being taught vital information for that end? Frankly, it’s incredible.

Even more appalling than the tiny number of students who took environmental science last year (there were five, myself included) is the fact that the class exists at all. What the five of us learned should already be integrated into our core classes, especially science and history.

Since this information isn’t in our regular curriculum, environmental science should at least be a mandatory class. Because we are not taught about it or educated on this issue, many kids walk around our school thinking it’s okay to throw plastic water bottles into trash cans as if they were basketballs. Even worse, the majority of us know not to do so but do it anyway. To those people, it seems like nobody around them even really cares. This notion is only encouraged by the lack of environmental education in our school. It’s time we started learning about important issues and putting change into practice.

Another problem with eco-culture at Horace Mann is how it’s branded. Environmental issues are portrayed as unsolvable problems for hippies and communists to tackle. I think ecological problems need a reboot. Horace Mann students, who often tend to lean Machiavellian in nature, should focus on the environment for selfish reasons. Making the world more green will raise incomes and standards of living everywhere. Even if students don’t want to serve humanity or do what is ethically right, environmental science is still extremely relevant as an area of study because green technology is the future, and will be lucrative. Also important to Horace Mann culture is rigor; when done right, environmental science is “important” and “difficult.” All the class needs is a new name and reputation, and it will be Horace Mann-ready.

Another great thing about Horace Mann as a school is our competitive attitude, especially towards other schools; let me make my final plea to that side of our nature. We are simply miles behind other schools. Fieldston, for example, has stickers on their paper towel dispensers that say “these come from trees.” That is simple and proven to work. Many New York high schools have banned water bottles in favor of free water dispenser with recyclable cups. There is precedent, and there are feasible steps we can take – all it takes is a small shift in our worldview. If we go green, not only will we have the edge on other schools, we will also have something over everyone else in the rest of our lives who doesn’t see the the potential of the solutions to this very real problem. An added bonus is that we will make the world a better place. So please take environmental science or at least learn about it on your own. Take these issues to heart. Join Green HM, write for Eco, sign a petition, donate to environmental causes. Recycle, carry a water bottle, and be a forward-thinking modern individual who embraces the future instead of fearing change.