I didn’t know what to expect on the first day of PROV 110. As a first semester freshman in college, I’d had limited experience with classes. The description of this course mentioned learning how to solve today’s global problems, but as a global affairs major, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly that meant. With professors who constantly discuss everything from ISIL and its potential threats to the ever increasing threat of unprecedented environmental disasters, it becomes overwhelming to even begin tackling these issues, especially coming from a teenager who is still adjusting to a life with more responsibilities—and more freedom. But that’s just it—the first thing I learned on that first day of PROV 110 is not that I should feel powerless because I’m young, but rather that I, along with my classmates, have the capability of solving these problems because we’re young and because Earth will be our home for the years to come, even beyond the times of our professors or our parents.
When I put it like that, it sounds really scary. But it’s not. Through all the class discussion that we had, it became clear that the class was less about being lectured and more about coming forth with our own unique thoughts and ideas. Dr. Prasad often presented some material and, afterwards, asked us about our opinions. It was a foreign concept at first; I was used to listening rather than speaking. On the first day, Dr. Prasad showed us a video called “The Story of Stuff”, which discussed our culture’s obsession with needing to constantly buy “more stuff” through the explanation of the materials economy, which is the process by which products go through extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and ultimately, disposal (the video can be found here). So, what exactly is disposal? I speak for a lot of people when I admit that I hadn’t exactly thought about where our material possessions go when we dispose of them—that’s where this materials economy model is off. Essentially, what each of these theoretical steps doesn’t account for, is the usage of resources that we can’t continue to waste to make toxic products that we can’t afford to keep using. This is business as usual: the daily usage of these products that will ultimately lead up to a point where “business as usual” isn’t an option. For me, and most likely a lot of other people, the problem was not knowing as much as I needed to know in terms of how much of an impact this is making on us, and more importantly, not knowing that to do with this information. We are somewhat inundated with information about environmental issues, but no one ever really has stopped me and said, “No, really, what are you going to do?”
So, what am I going to do? This was the premise for the entire course. It’s not an easy question, and I still find myself answering it every single day. I find myself talking a lot with my friends and family about what I discussed in PROV 110. In this case, it is less crucial to feel like I have to solve all the world’s problems alone in one day (which is 110% impossible, by the way) than it is to share what I think with others and listen to what others share with me based on the information that we collect. Our most vital influence is the impact that we have on each other as human beings; we can use that pressure for positive change. The problem here is not that people don’t care. The problem is that people don’t know how to care in a way that will solve the problem, and so they appear to be apathetic, when in reality, they’re just confused. When you teach people not what to care about, but how to care about things, it’s a powerful lesson. Suddenly, it’s not as daunting to make small changes that slowly become normal for me, for my group of friends/family, and someday even the world. When it reaches that point, and the world is living differently (in a positive way), we will have solved some of our most insurmountable challenges—not individually—but together.