Jamie Montagne ‘22

It was one of those unusually muggy Southern September days when the air was congested with humidity. I stood for a moment in the wooden bathroom, glancing back and forth from the bowl of sawdust to the instructions posted on the wall. I’d never experienced such longing for my bougie, porcelain throne until my first encounter with a compostable toilet. Thus began the first of many transformative experiences I had during my time WWOOFing (working as a “Willing Worker On an Organic Farm”) in rural Alabama. For three months last year, I interned under a solar consultant where I lived in a passive-solar designed home, learned about community, led solar home tours, and saw what sustainability looked like.

Living in a sustainable eco-village exposed the hypocrisy of the “gungho environmentalist” title I’d given myself. My AP Environmental Science credit and Instagram post on polar bears made me feel like I was a champion of the environment, someone actually making a change one social media post or conversation about Rachel Carson at a time. Looking back it’s clear that I confused enthusiasm for activism. My experience WWOOFing soon forced me to confront the truth about my own unsustainable lifestyle; the amount of waste I produced and the struggle I had letting go of the unsustainable practices I’d grown comfortable with. It was challenging to consciously monitor my energy-usage, limit the amount of meat I ate, and adapt to a home with such different practices than my own. I learned that sustainability is a lifestyle; a commitment that admittedly, I found daunting at first.

Despite my hesitation, living sustainably proved to be one of the most liberating, meaningful experiences of my life. I gained a sense of freedom in growing my own food, providing for myself and others, and knowing exactly where my food came from. Interning under a solar consultant allowed me to share the newfound knowledge I’d gained of photovoltaic systems to help people understand how they could utilize solar energy in their daily lives. This time around I really felt like I was making a difference. Unfortunately, I think many of us feel out of control, submissive to many aspects that surround our daily life: the energy-industry, food-industry, etc. However it is possible, hell, even economically efficient, to take charge of our energy and accessibility to renewable resources. But it is simply unacceptable to continue living with the awareness of our consequences on the environment and still choose to do nothing.

Recently the UN published a report on climate change, issuing that a 1.5 C increase would cause serious changes to our world: weather patterns, a decrease in biodiversity, and failing agricultural output. The report illuminated the fact that we will experience the catastrophic events of climate change around 2030 unless there’s a 40-50% reduction of carbon emission rates in tandem with no net-addition of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. So what can you do? What can Davidson do? 

One of the most important things you can do is evaluate your lifestyle: Does your lifestyle reflect how you regard the environment? The identities and images we have of ourselves in relation to the environment must change. While climate change may seem contained to only an environmental issue, it is also a substantial political, social, and economic issue. Think about water distribution, the cost of energy, the socio-economic class of people who will and are encountering the effects of climate change. One of the easiest things you can do is vote! Electing people into office who make the environment a pillar of their agenda is imperative. In the wake of the UN’s report we must all question our lifestyles and commit to making a change. If anything, at least give the compostable toilet a chance.

Jamie Montagne ‘22 is an undeclared student from Spartanburg, South Carolina. Contact her at jamontagne@davidson.edu