I really enjoyed majoring in the Environmental Studies program at UCSB, but despite being well educated in environmental issues I find myself not living sustainably or making choices that really make a difference in the right way. It’s just too big of a pain in the ass to do, and there is no benefit from thinking about it. To be ignorant of the extent to which man has and continues to abuse the commons of the world is to be free of a huge dead albatross around one’s neck.
The choices I make are informed, but that doesn’t really make them any better than the ones made by people who don’t take such things into their consideration. Maybe that makes it worse, because I know the implications of my actions and I more often choose convenience or comfort over the right thing to do. But it is damned hard to live a life of environmental morality, and to live this way would be pretty unbalanced. I have never met anyone who hasn?t been part of the problem, just people who try to minimize the impacts of their actions.
Sure, I take the train or skate to work every day, and I refuse plastic bags or disposable chopsticks when ever it’s possible, and I even pick up litter when I go hiking, but does this make a difference in the big picture? I would have to say no, having seen how people over here treat their natural areas as garbage bins/ashtrays. In the end, only I know the size of my ecological footprint.
It’s quite agitating to witness countless people shed and discard the various layers of packaging from their food or drink immediately after leaving the convenience store. I think that the average time that a plastic bag from a 7-11 is actually used before it is discarded would be less than a minute.
In school, I have to use large volumes of paper in order to do my job effectively because there is only one way to effectively manage my students. They need to be given worksheets to do. As long as there are worksheets to keep them busy, the stress level for both teachers and students is kept to a minimum. It comforts them in a way that other teaching materials can and do not. It kind of works the same as switching on the TV as background stimuli. They concentrate on it but lapse into sub-consciousness, or at least that?s what it looks like to me.
But the price for keeping the students busy and contented is quite high. I use at least one sheet of B4 sized paper and sometimes two sheets of A4 per class. I teach 5 regular classes of 40 students per class, 3 elective classes of 20 students per class, as well as a special education class of 6 students. A4 paper(210x297mm) is roughly equivalent to a standard sheet of 8×11 (216x279mm) from the U.S., and B4(250x353mm) is about 1.4 times the size of a sheet of A4 (for more information than you probably ever need to know about the ISO 216 paper size system, check out this site).
This may not sound like a lot of paper but the four minutes of the pounding machine gun “clackclackclackclackclack”, of the paper hitting the print tray terminus upon ejection from the risograph (a copying machine used to print out large quantities), that it takes to spit out 250 copies drives home just how much paper I use. That translates into an inch and a half thick, 5 pound pile of paper per week! I can’t describe the amount of paper that is kept in stock in the copy room, other than to call it a fortified great wall of paper. It is disgusting how much paper we use here, but there is really no other way.
There is no recycling system set up either. It all goes into the burnable garbage bin with everything else. I think that the only way to reduce the consumption of paper on this scale is by:
1. replacing the need for paper with some other substitute (like computers or tablets)
2. changing the way lessons are taught (but this is Japan, the land of social and ideological immobility)
3. hiking up the cost of paper (and this doesn’t necessarily have to be in terms of money)
I have already maximized the utility of worksheets in my classes by cramming as much material possible in every available space, and trying to stretch the material over as much class time as I can without sacrificing the quality of the lessons, so I am doing as much as is reasonably possible as far as I can think of.
I wish that paper was more expensive in order to cut down on waste, but I’m glad that I have enough paper to make as many copies as I need to make my job easier. I’m not going to lose any sleep over this, but it does bother me enough to write about. Let this be a warning to those who major in Environmental Studies. It is depressing when you know about the really ugly problems around us, and wanting to do something about it unless you set realistic goals. Individual choices and actions do have meaning, but most of the time they don?t mean as much as we would like them to.