“A constitutional democracy is in serious trouble if its citizenry does not have a certain degree of education and civic virtue.” -Phillip E. Johnson
Most people living in the United States would agree that in order to be a good citizen there is a certain list of things one must do. These standards might include voting in elections, being generous to those who are down on their luck, or displaying patriotism. These actions fall inside of a category called civic responsibilities; if a citizen acts on their feeling of responsibility they are doing their civic duty.
To be civic, one must be conscious of the needs of their greater community. A responsible citizen of a town must be attentive to the problems in their education system, the candidates running for city council, and the pollution of the local watershed. A responsible citizen of the United States, using a recent example, must listen to the outcry that #blacklivesmatter and make a change in their own life. A responsible citizen of the world must dedicate their energy to the protection of the Earth.
I love the grandiose idea of being a citizen of the world. It makes me feel like I have a personal connection to every race, religion, and nationality that has ever existed and that exists still. Thinking this way is joyous but can also be extremely painful. Being a citizen of the world means genocide is happening in my homeland. It means that my neighbors are being forced into refugee camps in order to evade civil war and my compatriots are dying of malaria. It means that my stomping ground is being destroyed by global climate change.
Stepping back from this big picture view, I continually realize that although I can try to sympathize with people experiencing all of these problems, I can’t empathize with any one except climate change. Therefore, this problem is the one I hold myself responsible for. Climate change is happening now; I feel it’s entirely necessary to abstain from waiting. Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s example set forth in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” it may seem like the action in the present is untimely and inconvenient, but now is the only time we have.
In my own personal life, I waste 12 tons of CO2 per year. That is 15 tons less than the average U.S. citizen but 7 more tons than the average world citizen. Living in the United States grants me access to a surplus of resources that I perpetually misuse and overuse. I have been born into certain lifestyle in the U.S. that is extremely detrimental to the environment. If everyone consumed resources in the way America does, we would need 4.1 Earths. As a citizen of the United States that’s shameful. As a citizen of the world that’s revolting.
In my life, I feel civic responsibility to tread lightly on the one Earth that we do have. I take advantage of the extensive recycling programs at Penn State and put waste in the correct bins. I use metal silverware and green 2 go. I take fast showers and keep the lights off during the day. Possibly, most importantly, I participate in Penn State Eco Action; a club dedicated to spreading awareness and change for the betterment of the Earth.
If any of you are interested in making a difference in your personal life, in Penn State, in the surrounding community, and in the world, Eco Action meets every Tuesday night at 6 pm in room 301 of the Boucke building. This year’s first campaign is called Kill the Cup, and its tagline is “if you waste paper cups no one will like you.” The challenge aims to get college students, faculty, and staff to use travel mugs instead of disposable coffee mugs. Penn State is one of the 16 universities in the country competing for first place and the grand prize of grant money for a sustainable project. To participate, you must bring your own reusable coffee mug to the Starbucks in the hub when purchasing a drink there. Then, upload a selfie of you and your drink to the Kill the Cup App. Anyone who uploads a photo will both help their school win and also be eligible to win gift cards and other prizes.
This campaign is the perfect way to start doing your civic duty as a citizen of the world. Will you participate? Do you think that maintaining a sustainable lifestyle is a civic responsibility? How do you fulfill this duty?