The Campus Environmental Sustainability Month has found itself off to a wet start. Members of the campus environmental group, SEAK (Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge), have started mobilizing to educate and empower the Southwestern student body to make sustainable choices in everyday living.
Faculty advisor Dr. Hobgood-Oster stated the reasons that inspire her to be environmentally conscience that seem consistent in the entire human experience, “Being outside, breathing clean air, seeing trees, watching deer and squirrels, and hanging out with my partner and my dogs under a starry sky. I also have two little nephews – one is four and the other is two. I want them to have a good life. Right now, I worry about that for them.”
The month started off on Monday, Feb. 1, with the focus on energy. Just three weeks prior, Southwestern became the first university in Texas to have all of its power supplied by wind energy and one of only six universities in the country to have a totally “green” source of power, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Now, what exactly does that mean? The energy committee of SEAK members explained this process by a wind energy demonstration complete with a wind propelled apparatus connected to turning wheels beneath that transferred the movement to a magnet set up that then worked to further transfer the energy into power lines.
“I really enjoy learning about and talking about energy. Probably because I’m a science major, but I really think it’s important,” said senior Connor Hanrahan. “Energy and food surround us almost all the time and yet we, collectively, know the least about both of them. I think that’s unfortunate because they both have extremely far-reaching consequences, past the outlets and the grocery stores. Between the two, however, I personally think that making energy is awesome!” said Hanrahan, who also serves as president of SEAK.
The following Wednesday night was a facilitated movie showing with Mary Gonzalez who critically engaged the film, “Between Midnight and the Rooster’s Crow,” which focuses on EnCana’s development of a heavy crude oil pipeline from the Amazon across the earthquake-prone Andes to the Pacific coast for export. Since oil exploitation represents a solution for Ecuador’s economic crisis, the government has gone out of its way to facilitate EnCana’s plans, disregarding protests about property destruction and contamination.
The current week has been focused on water usage with a demonstration in the Bishop’s Lounge on Thursday, showing a visual representation of the effect of different timed showers, and other comparisons of water use that we all engage in everyday. “Drowned Out” will be facilitated by Professor Loomis and the film explores the fight against dams in southern India that are affecting displaced peoples and perpetuating ecological problems. The showing will be at Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the McCombs Ballrooms.
“As a child my family lived a simple lifestyle – a small house and small cars. My mother was always making sure we turned off the water while we brushed our teeth or bathed, my father always planted a garden in the yard. I learned most of the basics of sustainability at home,” Hobgood-Oster said.
Food production and consumption will be the focus of the third week starting Feb. 15. “The industrial agriculture system causes immense harm to the environment, the animals it uses for food, the workers involved, and the health of the humans that consume that food,” said Leah Jones, a passionate and conscious food lover and active member of SEAK. “Environmentally speaking, industrialized agriculture is dangerous because it degrades the soil through usage of fertilizers and pesticides and the constant planting of monoculture crops. Tons of fossil fuels are also emitted at these industrial plants and animal feedlots. For most meals in the United States, food travels approximately 1,000 miles before reaching the plate – the issue of transportation pollution is huge as well.” said Jones.
A food exhibit will take place in the Bishops Lounge on Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a panel of speakers from Monument Cafe, the Georgetown Farmer’s Market and Boggy Creek Farms in Austin.
“We can all do little things, that add up to huge things. I, for example and for lots of reasons, choose not to eat factory-farmed meat – what you eat is the single most weighty component of your carbon footprint. The way meat is ‘made’ in the US now is horrible for the environment and for the animals,” said Hobgood-Oster. “If we all just ate more carefully, for example not eating meat two or three days a week, that would be huge. Right now about 2 percent of the US population is vegetarian. Imagine if all 300 million humans stopped eating meat factory farmed two or three days a week. It would be huge! Yes, individuals can make a difference because it passes on to others,” she said.
The junior class Paideia group who focuses on food and culture will be co-sponsoring the facilitated movie showing of “Food, Inc.” on Feb. 16. Free Chipotle burritos and Sweet Leaf Tea will be provided at the showing in the McCombs Ballroom at 7 p.m.
“I think food choices are one of the most important environmental choices a person can make. Everyone eats food, and every day we have a choice to consume food that is a product of the industrial agriculture system or food that is produced sustainably, either organically and/or locally. Sustainable food is very important to me because I believe everyone can get involved and do something positive- by supporting local and organic food, limiting your meat consumption, or by growing your own food, which is also very empowering,” Jones said.
The final week will culminate in waste and recycling awareness. On Monday, Feb. 22, be sure to catch the trash display on the academic mall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. that will show all of the waste accumulated by the Southwestern Community in one week. SEAK members will be available to answer questions and provide more facts about consumption at Southwestern. Recess on the mall will also be happening at 7 p.m. that night to encourage students to turn off their lights and appliances and come out to the mall for quite literal “fun and games,” including tag, hula hooping, duck duck goose, four square, music and snacks. The film for the week will be a very brief showing of “The Story of Stuff” with a discussion afterward facilitated by Dr. Johnson. The week and month will end with a Recycled Crafts Fiesta on the mall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a raffle drawing for the tickets distributed for participation at the various events throughout the month. Raffle prizes include Monument, Dos Salsos and El Charrito gift cards, along with Sprouts grocery store.
“It’s really easy to get down about things, feeling too small, or too busy or just tired. What always picks me back up though is the community of individuals, inside and outside of SEAK, who make the decision to be considerate of others. I have some great friends that try their best to consciously embrace positivity, and that is activism at its core. That’s what we’re all trying to create together,” Hanrahan said.
Inspiration is the goal for Campus Sustainability Month and members of the Southwestern community are working hard to create and channel what we are learning as students in our classes and effectively engaging the privileged access to the variety of resources that we have in this higher learning institution,
“I am inspired all the time by people – friends, SEAKers, well known and barely known activists, etc. who overcome a lot of resistance and create tangible, positive change for their communities. I have a lot of respect for other groups on campus like EBONY, Student Peace Alliance, Allies, and many others who do a lot of amazing things and don’t always get the recognition they deserve. For me, environmental activism is the realm I’ve found to make a difference, and if I wasn’t doing so, I feel like I would be taking my privilege for granted.” Jones said.