Students, faculty, staff and community members packed the Shannon Room last night to consider what types of environmental activism are most effective. The panel, titled “Consumerism, Activism, and Individualism: How to be a Better Environmentalist,” was planned by Lauren Hickey ’20 over the course of several months on behalf of the Office of Sustainability.
Panelists mainly discussed whether individual actions or broad policy changes are the best way to promote environmental protection and natural resource conservation. Hickey emphasized that she strove for balance when selecting panelists. The panel featured Associate Professor of Economics Erik Nelson, Executive Director of Maine Conservation Voters Maureen Drouin ’96, owner of Morning Glory Natural Foods Toby Tarpinian and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Government Shana Starobin. The event was moderated by Hickey and Jonah Watt ’18, one of the leaders of Bowdoin Climate Action.
The panelists’ discourse addressed two themes: whether society can maximize the impact of both policy change and individualized actions, as well as the intersections between environmental activism and broader movements for racial and economic justice.
While panelists disagreed on specific points, they all emphasized that individual and collective actions are not mutually exclusive and both may be important.
“I would never say individual action isn’t important because I think it is, but what I spend my time on in this movement is around policy issues,” said Drouin. “It is thoroughly up to all of us to elect people who will enact [pro-environmental] policies.”
Nelson talked about the role of markets in pursuing environmental progress, and questioned other panelists’ and audience members’ framing of the severity of contemporary environmental challenges.
“I think it all comes down to cost,” he said.
Attendees said they appreciated the chance this event provided for them to think deeply about their environmental work.
“As someone who is normally very focused on individual actions, [the panel] reminded me of the importance of policy action and larger policy change,” said Lindsey Duff ’18.
Despite the intense subjects discussed, many audience members expressed hopeful sentiments as the event ended.
“I’m really proud of how many people showed up,” said Sustainability Outreach Coordinator Bethany Taylor. “It’s nice to see so many people seeking information.”