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Natural hypocrites

| Monday, April 23, 2018

Yesterday was Earth Day, as I’m sure you know, and though spring has not yet fully sprung (and thus it seems a little too chilly to spend the day outside), I’d like to focus for a moment on our natural home.

In a few weeks, most of us will return to our childhood homes — or, if you are a Mendoza student, New York City — and leave Notre Dame for the summer. Yet as the class of 2018 prepares to leave campus to pursue vocations across the globe, I wonder how many of them have gotten to know their home here. How many have never walked around the lakes, much less ventured past them to see what lies beyond on our beautiful 1,300 acres? How many students have seen the families of woodchucks, deer and raccoons who frequent the meadows past the Holy Cross Cemetery? Even the walnut trees and brambles are worth a second glance, yet we are mostly blind to the abounding nature in our backyard.

A walk around campus isn’t just for pleasure, though it scarcely needs to be noted that such walks make excellent study breaks and times for contemplation. The reason we ought to be connected to our land is that we tend to separate ourselves from it, with dire consequences.

When it comes to nature and the environment, we are all hypocrites. We all claim to want and know what is best for this country, yet we put little effort into caring for the land within its boundaries.

For whatever reason, being a good steward of the land has become a political issue and our planet will suffer for our feuding over its care.

I don’t believe anyone can put forth a good argument for not caring about the land, yet our propensity to distance ourselves from the dirt and the bugs, our love of concrete and the comforts of modern life have allowed us to be blind to our impact, even on campus itself.

Our wasteful habits are cultivated in the name of efficiency and self-indulgence as we happily go about our academic endeavors without a thought for the ground beneath our feet. Cigarette butts, beer bottles and even unlucky unlocked bikes are haplessly dumped into the lakes. Our sidewalks aren’t much better (looking at you Zahm boys with your defenestration antics), and our carelessness creates lots of unnecessary work for the men and women who keep our campus in top shape.

How simple it is to buy a reusable coffee cup instead of thoughtlessly grabbing a new piece of future trash every time you need caffeine? Don’t reach for a plastic stirring straw if you can help it — swirling will dissolve your sugar just as well and it only takes an extra moment. Take only what you will eat at the dining halls, waste less.

If you’re also from a drought-prone Southern California, the abundance of water in Indiana seems at first like a free pass for long showers. Yet that plentiful water doesn’t get here by magic; conserving water is conserving energy from the coal or natural gas used to pump it here.

Using hand dryers instead of paper towels, turning off the lights when you leave your room, sharing clothes, buying fewer new ones in general or donating them and not overcharging electronics are all ways we can better conserve and protect our planet.

I’d point out the obvious tactic, recycling, but unfortunately I’ve heard too many rumors of Notre Dame’s sham separated bins to be optimistic about that route. At least we pay lip service to a worthy cause, right?

In the end, our hypocrisy lies in our thoughtlessness. As a Catholic institution filled with students and faculty who are supposed to be pursuing the good, ignorance is not a viable excuse. As members of the educated elite, we must recognize our magnified roles in our communities and respond accordingly. We have a duty to our fellow men to be good stewards. Republican or Democrat, Catholic or atheist, climate change denier or lover of scientism, we should all do well to take care of this place.

So take that walk around the lakes before you graduate, get to know your home and all her natural beauty.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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