Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Opinion Piece in the Hoya: "Earth Day: Consider Impacts of Daily Action"

I recently wrote an opinion piece for The Hoya in honor of Earth Day. You can find it here, or you can scroll down, where it has been reproduced for this blog.

Last week, Eco-Action co-sponsored an event with Campus Ministry on Catholicism and the environment, which included a speech by the executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change. In its newest wave of ads, the Catholic Coalition poses the question: “Who’s under your carbon footprint?”

This inquiry is jarring because it forces one to reflect more deeply on the effects that daily actions have in our interconnected world. As Earth Day is turning 40 this Thursday, and as the old adage says that wisdom comes with age, the best message I could give this Earth Day is simple but profound: think.

It’s not a complicated edict, nor is it very specific; however, it is by all means an important one. When we take more time to think — to truly reflect — on our daily actions and choices, it is much easier to see how they fit into the greater scheme of our own lives and those all around us.

Take, for example, the food in your lunch. All of the items on your plate did not just magically appear — they came out of the complex forces of nature (the seeds, the water, the sunlight) and the forces of transportation (the plane, the train or the automobile) that helped get them from their source to your plate. That brief moment of reflection — thinking about all of those people and entities that enable us to have what we do — can make us appreciate what we have and also to be more conscientious about what we do and what we buy.

Moreover, that brief pause — which allows us to see greater value in what we have — makes it more difficult to throw something away as easily as we do. If we do have to dispose of our goods, where do they end up? It is a sign of an educated person to be always asking questions.

It is only through the processes of self-reflection that we are able to engage in dialogue with others. This critical analysis and discussion are the reasons why we came to Georgetown: We came to challenge our minds to think about forces greater than ourselves, to enable ourselves to comprehend things that before may have seemed outside of our limits and to understand ourselves in the context of the environment in which we live.

These forces of reflection are essential to improving our roles as both consumers and citizens. Thinking about what we buy, why we buy it, from where it came and where it will go allows us to make choices that are both environmentally and socially responsible. Good citizenship is even more connected to the process of reflection. We must see our individual selves as integral parts of society and nature. We should understand that we have the knowledge and power to affect positive and lasting change.

We have to grapple with large concepts in order to come up with new ideas, breaking from the past or rediscovering what was lost. Engaging in discussions about these issues forces us to both challenge our beliefs and hone them. Out of the disparity or clash of beliefs will come new convictions better developed than before.

In both our roles as citizens and as consumers, however, we should never stop at thinking, but ultimately we must act. Never forget that an action is nothing more than an idea made into reality.

Jonathan Cohn is a senior in the College and a former board member of EcoAction.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

EcoAction in the News

EcoAction has gotten some media attention this week, so I thought I would highlight two articles:

Vox Populi featured an article about our upcoming collaboration with the Center for Student Programs to help make marketing events less wasteful and more effective and to help reduce the waste generated by the events themselves. Stay tuned as this develops.

The GW Hatchet also covered the Glover Park cleanup from last week. It is a great piece that highlights the collaboration between the student groups at Georgetown, GW, and AU for the benefit of the local community.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

You don't have to be a science person to learn about the environment in the classroom!

We all know that the STIA department is full of environmental classes; biology and environmental biology are great sources of education as well. But what about those who aren't as scientifically-inclined? Here are some great humanities classes that tackle the issue of man and his relationship with energy and the environment!


THEO-044: Religion and Ecology
Professor Haught
This course asks whether religions, and particularly Christianity, care for the welfare of the non-human natural world. In addition, it explores ways in which religions may contribute to the resolution of the ecological crisis. (Not offered 2004-05)
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None

HIST-203: Global/Local food systems
Faculty: Timothy Beach and Meredith McKittrick
This course is also listed as STIA 329.

This is a survey of contemporary global food system -- and its critics -- through the lens of history, economics, and science. We introduce the major themes in the history of 20th-century agriculture, including the move toward industrial food production in the developed world, agricultural commodity production for export in the developing world, the Green Revolution, and the emergence of biotechnology in agriculture. We will then turn toward the criticisms of this global and industrial food system and its alternatives. We explore such topics as agrarianism, ecology, and conservation in both the U.S. and around the world, critiques of the Green Revolution in the developing world, the rise of ‘fair trade,’ organic, and the current debates over GM crops. Although the class will focus on the scientific and social aspects of agricultural production, students will also be exposed to debates about marketing and consumption and ethical considerations of food and agriculture. The class will include trips to nearby farms and guest speakers.

Agricultural History of the last Century
Green Revolutions
Major crops and their derivation
Seed banks
Soil fertility and degradation
Water demands of agriculture: water footprints
Carbon footprints of farming
Agroecology and Permaculture
Livestock and livestock raising systems
Conservation and Sustainable systems
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None

HIST-290: Oil and World Power
Faculty: David Painter
Oil has been central to power and wealth since the early 20th century, and the history of oil provides important insights into the nature and dynamics of power and influence in the international system. This course will examine the interaction of the history of oil and key events in international history from the early 20th century to the present. This course can count for either the Us or the Middle East region for History majors.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None


Hist 182-20: American Environmental History

Faculty: Kevin Powers

From the popularity of hybrid cars and the increasing ubiquity of energy-efficient light bulbs to the Obama's White House vegetable garden, interest in and concern for the environment among Americans now seems widespread – or at least fashionable. But as the rancorous debates over energy policy, “green” jobs, climate change, and energy independence suggest, we often seem no closer to solving many of our most fundamental environmental problems. Green attitudes cannot by themselves change the fact that our environmental problems have deep historical roots and are woven into our daily lives – where we live and work, how we travel, the energy we consume, the goods we purchase. How did we get to this point?

The broad purpose of our course will be to examine the evolving and reciprocal relationship between Americans and their environment from the colonial era to present day. Nonhuman nature is a dynamic force that has profoundly shaped human history; we will therefore consider how the physical environment of the North American continent influenced spatial patterns of settlement, population growth, and the course of economic development in American history. But humans have been at work (re)shaping the environment for quite some time, and few humans have reshaped the environment more than those living in the lands that now constitute the United States. And so a second focus will be to examine how the decisions Americans have made regarding how to feed themselves, where to live and work, and how to best produce and consume desired goods and services has dramatically altered the environment throughout history, for better and for worse. Finally, we will examine how Americans' understanding of and their attitude toward the environment has changed over time. Our purpose is not to indict present or past generations of Americans for their environmental decisions, but instead to understand why particular choices were made at particular places and at particular times, by whom, and also to ask who benefited from these choices, who was harmed, and why.

3 credits
M-F Lecture 3:15 - 4:45 p.m.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rock your best GREEN!

Earth Day 2010, April 22nd WEAR GREEN

April 22nd is Earth Day!! It is time for our student body to embrace the day, wear green and show up at Green Square between 11 am and 2 pm. Wearing green next Thursday means more than just putting on a nice color of the rainbow. It will symbolize how the Georgetown student body feels about the environment -- Hoyas want to preserve it.

So text your friends, send a lot of Facebook messages and share your excitement for Georgetown's embracement of Earth Day. We will send a message this year: Hoyas are most certainly thinking green!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Clean Park is a Happy Park

Today, GU EcoAction, Green GW, and AU EcoSense all collaborated for a clean-up of Glover Archbold Park as part of the annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup.

Here are the stats:
Volunteers: 75 (approximately)---The three schools made up about 1/3 of this!
Bags of trash: 80
Plastic shopping bags: 250
Top 3 brands: Coke, McDonalds, Budweiser
Cigarette butts: 500
Tires: 3
Computers: 1
Car alternators: 1
Most unusual items: Washington Globe street light and a deer skeleton

Fantastic weather, beautiful nature, meaningful service, and good company--what's not to love?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Get to Know the Sustainability Movers and Shakers On Campus: Jess Buckley

You may have heard about a thing called the Sustainability Advisory Committee, the group of students, faculty, administrators, and staff that discuss the role of sustainability at GU, and maybe you haven't. Either way, EcoAction is taking the month of April--Earth Month--to introduce you to the important folks from the Committee--the sustainability movers and shakers, as I'll call them.

First up is Jess Buckley, Hall Director for McCarthy and the Head of Project Hilltop, a group of RAs and students promoting sustainable practices in residence halls and apartments on campus!

So, Jess, tell us about an average day at the job. What does your position entail?

I wear many hats, so everyday is different! I supervise RAs, oversee the building budget, work with facilities and housekeeping on infrastructure issues, do some programming, and sit on lots of university and Residence Life committees. Because of my interest in sustainability, I advise Project Hilltop, which is the Residence Life sustainability committee made up of RAs from almost every residence hall on campus along with some residents.

How did you come to Georgetown?

My husband started a PhD program here, and I was finishing a Master's in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration at the University of Vermont. I saw the Hall Director position open, and it seemed like a perfect fit. I've loved working here.

How does Georgetown compare to other institutions at which you've worked?

Georgetown is a great place. It's a bit smaller of a community than some other schools where I've worked, which means departments often work closely together on similar projects. While we're not quite as far along on sustainability as some schools (like Vermont), we are also ahead of the game in many aspects. Our physical plant is top notch, our administrators are committed to sustainability, the Jesuit values go hand in hand with the work for sustainability, we have a great recycling and composting program, and we have devoted students. The working environment here is designed for collaboration, which is what real sustainable initiatives require. Georgetown is already doing so much around sustainability, our goals now need to be to educate the campus community and encourage faculty, staff, and students alike to participate in the effort so our behaviors match the efforts from our physical plant, recycling manager, and others. It takes the entire community to live lightly.

If you had three wishes for how to change campus, what would they be?

1. Cohesive info around campus for more community knowledge about what the campus is already doing.
2. Greater awareness around why and how sustainability is an issue of social justice. Sustainable decisions (like using less energy, buying fewer things, and producing less trash) make the most impact on the poor and oppressed both in our neighborhood and around the globe. Consider the St. Francis Pledge: http://catholicclimatecovenant.org/.
3. Re-work buildings like the Village C's and Leavey so that they do not become heat traps in certain times of the year.

What's a really common myth about sustainability at GU that needs to be debunked?

I hear all the time that the solar panels don't work. Xavier Rivera, our Director of Energy and Utilities, can tell us differently! While they do not produce as much energy as when they were installed, the panels do still work. Any new panels have to be specially made, so we do not always replace broken panels with new panels. But the total capacity is still 2/3 of what is was when installed many years ago.

What's the most important thing for Hoyas to do as individuals?

Become aware of consequences of each action, and ensure actions result in the consequences that are of best service to themselves and the community.

And now for a fun question: If you could be an animal (any one at all), which would you be?

A koala. Then maybe I'd eat more greens and less sweets!

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more interviews!