Last semester I took Bio 101. To the untrained eye (and likely to the trained eye) this class appears to be a basic Intro to Biology class for freshmen who have their shit together enough to know they are on the pre-med track (these are the same students who took Orgo first semester to “get it out of the way”). But Bio 101 was actually cross-listed as Environ 101 with the title “Food, Energy and the Environment” and was billed as a science class for non-science majors in LSA looking to fulfill their natural science requirement.

Except it was so much more than that. I’ve never taken a class before that spoke to me so urgently. I’ve always loved nature, but I’ve never before felt the call to action, the need to make a change and really do something to protect this amazing, intricately beautiful planet.

Some people have godly moments in church or a synagogue or a mosque or some other religious location, where they feel connected with god and the world and for one brief moment can see everything in life clearly and in perspective. For me, every moment I’ve had like that has come in nature. There’s something about standing waist deep in an ocean surrounded by mountains, or lying on the forest floor during an epic storm that makes a person feel their place in the universe. And even though nature can make you feel small, it also makes you feel deeply connected to the world surrounding you. Other than the fact that Earth is the only known planet to sustain life, that is why it is important to protect nature.

There’s a type of quiet, simple peace that can be found outside. My sister, Natalie, explained to me why everyone feels so at peace in nature — it’s because we are a part of nature. We are a part of the wondrous cycles of life that cause trees to grow every summer, cause leaves to change colors and cause plants to use nitrogen in the ground to grow and take in carbon from the atmosphere. After all, we breathe out carbon, and trees and other plants breathe it in and breathe out oxygen. We are naturally a part of the same cycle. We are in an interdependent relationship with the rest of nature. But somewhere along the line, we forgot our role in this cycle.

Prof. John Vandermeer, the professor of my Bio/Enviro 101 class, would probably say this change began with the start of agriculture, but really took hold after World War I, when instead of being in a partnership with nature (where farmers were the doctors and crops and nature were the patients), the agricultural ideology switched to a militaristic one, where farmers had to conquer and take advantage of and pillage their farms. This was a drastic misstep.

Bio 101 really awoke me to the issues that are occurring within the current agriculture and food systems, and made me want to do something about it. But when the issues seem so insurmountable and simultaneously important to address as soon as possible, it’s difficult to decide what to do. Because I really do want to do something, even the smallest thing, to help the Earth. There are a million things wrong with the world, but none of those problems can be solved if we don’t have a planet to live on.

There’s just something about being in nature. I want my children (and if I don’t have children, then just future generations) to have the opportunity to go out and experience the wilderness, to see mountains and forests and rock formations and rivers and waterfalls and lakes and oceans. Because seeing these natural wonders and climbing and hiking through them not only makes you appreciative and deeply protective of this world, but it reveals and heals parts of yourself that you may not have even known were there or in need of healing. Nature puts everything into perspective and is a kind of deep, personal therapy. We cannot exist without it.

In class, Professor Vandermeer and my GSI Jonno said to get involved by doing something you love. We watched a video where a cartoon baker got involved in helping with climate change by providing food for volunteers and having bake sales to raise money and awareness. I do not know much about what I want out of life, but I know that I love nature, and that I love to write. So I thought that if I write about nature, and about my struggles to live a sustainable life while simultaneously being a college freshman in a sorority, maybe I could inspire other people (and myself) to live in a way that is sustainable.

Because for me at least, it’s easy to say I want to live a sustainable life and help save the planet, while simultaneously not recycling, eating food produced by big businesses, and not supporting local, sustainable food. This semester I’m going to try to actually be sustainable (walk the walk, so to speak), and I hope this column will not only keep me accountable (because on my own I have an embarrassingly low amount of willpower), but also inspire other environment-lovers (I know you’re out there), and even people who think recycling is just a hipster fad, to try to live in a way that could help save the world.

Eliana Herman can be reached at erherman@umich.edu.

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