Act Today or Lose Tomorrow

Plastic pollution kills a million people a year, according to a recent report. These lives lost to pollution are not like the lives of people you find at Andover; they are the global poor who have always suffered the most. We know the enormous cost of climate change denial over the past 20 years. If the same denial occurs about plastic pollution, we’ll kill millions more people, and practically drown in a sea of unusable plastic. 

Andover students have ambitious plans to address this issue. For example, the Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition (PASC) has started over a dozen climate initiatives to attack climate problems. A Greener Blue provides a roadmap for creating a more sustainable campus by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and more. 

Such initiatives are great, but they need to be part of an environmental ethic that rejects throw-away culture. As a collective, the student body must act. As an institution, Andover approaches sustainability with the best intentions—water bottle fillers and solar panels on Snyder Center to name a couple of features—but practice doesn’t always follow theory: plates and cups vanish from sight on the Paresky Commons conveyor belt, but we have no idea whether the food waste is composted; few people on campus know where the public compost bins are, or even what composting is. Sustainability, in short, has not been internalized by the student body because it has not been promoted as a daily priority. And until we recognize climate change’s harsh impact on disadvantaged communities across the globe, we simply can’t internalize sustainability. 

As students, our job is to pressure our school to do everything it can—including better recycling signage, increased visibility of composting, and more coverage of environmental issues in alumni publications, to name just three—so we actually have a livable planet in 50 years. As the Andover community, we must foster a sustainable culture at our school by being more transparent, making the importance of recycling clear, and noting that the decision to reduce, reuse, and recycle is an ethical imperative. And it’s imperative in part because our consumer, convenience-oriented culture is making the planet uninhabitable, and at a much faster rate for the impoverished, effectively committing suicide. 

And, as it happens, the town of Andover is setting an example. Four years ago, Andover residents voted to restrict single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers. Now, plastics are legally prohibited at food establishments without a Board of Health waiver. The town’s Department of Public Works (DPW) also arranges annual Earth Day Cleanups, providing waste bags and post-cleanup service since 2019. This past Earth Day, the PASC arranged a student-led clean-up of the usually-trashed seating area behind UBurger, a public event that demonstrated our commitment to an environmentally healthy community. We could do the same this fall by cleaning up the banks of the Merrimack River and local trails, where the rowing team practices and people hike year-round. Individual events are awesome, but they should not be treated like something to do on the weekend, like going to the movies. We need to pressure the school to treat environmental consciousness as more like eating or breathing than entertainment; you shouldn’t be able to walk to class without seeing reminders, or evidence, that humans have to change their ways today.

After all, Earth Day has become like Thanksgiving and Christmas––do a good environmental deed, bow your head, and resume your old, wasteful ways the next day. That is not good enough. The stakes are so high that we should regard every day as Earth Day. As a prestigious, privileged, and wealthy institution, Andover should lead by example, practicing a sustainable environmental ethic on a daily basis. We as students must push them to do so as the biggest environmental crisis of the era gets worse. Living and learning in the Andover bubble of wealth and privilege, at least this much is our obligation.  

Over the last century, environmental hazards like pollution have killed people in Pakistan, the Philippines, and more. While we can’t save the world simply by doing better at Andover, we still must do our part. It’s thrilling when we beat Exeter in football or set new records in Ivy League admissions, but such achievements won’t mean much in 25 years when millions of people are drowning, suffering, displaced, and dying because we didn’t change our wasteful ethic today. Talk is cheap, of course, so I invite you to join me in putting these ideas into action. As students here, we not only can make a difference, we must. Today, we are part of the problem, but tomorrow, we can be part of the solution. 

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