Earth Day takes place annually on April 22nd every year since 1970. This year marks the 42nd anniversary. It brings together all walks of life to one common and crucial goal: protecting the environment and the planet. According to EarthDay.Org, “the Earth Day 2012 campaign is designed to provide people with the opportunity to unite their voices in a call for a sustainable future and direct them towards quantifiable outcomes.” Dr. Nick Smith-Sebasto, Executive Director of the Center for Sustainability Studies here at Kean, answered some questions for KeanXChange about the importance of Earth Day’s recognition and what we can all do to help.
1. What are some of the ongoing sustainability initiatives going on here at Kean?
The major sustainability initiative is the B.S. in Sustainability Science, the only degree of its kind in New Jersey and one of a very small number in the nation. Approved at the state-level in September 2009, the degree is designed to prepare Kean students to be the change-agents and problem solvers of the future who will provide the leadership necessary to transition to sustainability. Currently, there are nearly 40 majors in the program.
Another important sustainability initiative is the food scraps composting demonstration project. Kean is the home to a state-of-the-art, custom-designed aerobic in-vessel digester that converts all of the food scraps generated on campus into a rich, organic compost that is used in various landscaping projects as well as the Liberty Hall farm. To date, nearly 150,000 lbs. or 75 tons of food scraps have been composted.
Last year, Students@KATS was formed. The full name is Students at Kean Action Team for Sustainability. The group completes at least one action each month to support sustainability initiatives on campus. Currently there are about 2 dozen active members.
Each year, Dr. Daniela Shebitz organizes a clean-up of the Elizabeth River. Having such a wonderful resource so close to campus is a real benefit until the condition of it is realized. Sadly, despite the efforts of her and the many volunteers, everything that is cleaned from the river on one day is replaced very shortly thereafter.
The President's Task Force on Sustainability has recently been re-activated. A small, but dedicated group of faculty who share a common interest in sustainability are seriously studying the issue with the objective of making recommendations to President Farahi about steps Kean might take to even more fully embrace sustainability.
The past two GreenFests have been held at Kean. This annual event draws thousands of visitors to campus to learn more about sustainability. The most recent one, held in March, included a keynote address by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
2. Why do you think Earth Day is so important to recognize every year?
Well, actually, I think Earth Day should be recognized every day and not just on April 22. Recognizing the importance of protecting the life support systems of Earth is far too important to relegate to just one day per year. Sadly, for many, that is precisely what happens. Still, having one day where people are reminded to respect the Earth is probably better than none.
3. What can people in the Kean community do to help be more "green" and environment-friendly?
The most important action that people in the Kean community can do is to think more about the impact of their actions on the planet. I've seen people on campus throw recyclable containers in the garbage even though there are recycling containers on campus. I've seen people through cigarette butts on the ground even though there are special receptacles for them on campus. The single, most important action is to become educated about the situations that are contributing to the sustainability crisis and the solutions to it.
Perhaps the most important action is to reject the word waste as a noun. There is simply no waste in nature. The concept of waste is unique to humans. Waste as a verb is find; but as a noun is only contributes to deterioration of the life support systems of the planet and epitomizes what is not sustainable.
4. What are some of the worst environmental impacts we are experiencing today?
The worst environmental impacts are the disturbance of ecosystem services. The life support systems of Earth are being so severely compromised that many scientists believe that if we do not make dramatic changes to our behaviors, the planet may be unable to sustain life as we know it. Sadly, too many people focus on the symptoms and not the causes. Global climate change, for example, is a symptom of a more disturbing issue; however, in what has become a popular response to problems, many are focusing on it while missing the larger underlying issue. It's like the commercials on television that advertise antacids to combat indigestion instead of educating viewers about the importance of not eating foods that cause the indigestion.
Loss of farmland and open space is a serious issue, especially in New Jersey, which is poised to become the first state in the nation to reach a condition known as build-out, which means that there will be no remaining available land in the state--all of it will be developed.
5. What else would you like people to know about the environment and sustainability practices?
That living sustainably, in harmony with the life support systems of the planet will not be difficult to do. In fact, our ancestors did so. Also, there are aboriginal cultures that have been in existence for far longer than the modern industrial cultures, demonstrating that it is possible to live sustainably, within the limitation of the planet to sustain life. The most important point I would like people to know about the environment and sustainability practices is that if they don't like the prospect of a more degraded, less sustaining Earth in the future, then they should change the situation. I would like them to embrace the idea expressed with ten, simple, two-letter words: If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me.