Last year, it was Maria. This year, it’s Florence and Michael. The glaciers are melting in Alaska and there are more dry days in the Amazon. It snowed in the Florida panhandle last winter for the first time in 30 years. Then, the area was devastated by a hurricane. Around here, it was among the coldest Aprils and it was the hottest May on record.
Is it any wonder that just last month, an elite group of world scientists voiced dire predictions for the earth within just two decades?
Climate change is real and the seemingly unsolvable task of saving the earth from its people will fall on the shoulders of our children. When asked, millennials say the most serious issue affecting the world is climate change. More than three-quarters of them say they are willing to change their lifestyle in order to preserve the environment.
Our Ecology Club asked us to make the environment the focus of our summer reading project with our incoming freshman students. We thought this was a great idea, but it was actually hard to find a book that wasn’t a complete downer. I learned pretty quickly that there’s not much optimism in the literature written about the earth and its environment. In fact, most of the information teeters on the edge of apocalyptic. The book we chose, Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet (edited by Julie Dunlap and Susan A. Cohen), was a series of essays written by young people about our planet and the importance of saving it.
We’re hoping to inspire our newest students to take responsibility for their own personal footprint. Our Ecology Club consists of students who hold campus-wide activities to educate and recruit others to join their cause. With the help of our club, the campus has doubled its recycling in four years. We actually reduced our trash last year as well. We had a 35% reduction in waste water in 2017 because of low-flow water fixtures.
The Eco Club’s “Blue Goes Green” initiative began last year with the distribution of reusable water bottles. They estimate that we saved 1.2 million bottles of water by encouraging students to use reusable bottles. Our activists worked with our facilities department to make sure there were more refilling stations on campus and they talked to fellow students about the awful effect plastic water bottles have on landfills.
We as parents play a big role in that simple initiative. I have to tell you I cringe every year on move-in day when I see parents lugging case after case of spring water into the residence halls. The Ecology Club got me fired up about it. Stats show that Americans throw away 30 billion water bottles every year. And if it really does take a thousand years for a plastic water bottle to decompose in a landfill, you can understand why the Ecology Club is so keen on the reusable bottles.
That’s not all. The Seton Hall Ecology Club has been leading eco-expeditions in the N.J. Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville and the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area in Rockaway to engage Seton Hall students with the outdoors and the natural environment.
Off campus, students have been stewards of the environment through their Service on Saturday work. In mid-October, a large group of students worked with the South Orange Environmental Commission to pull invasive plants from the bed of the Rahway River. Other volunteer groups went out to the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization’s Fresh Roots Farm where they helped tend to and harvest crops, prepared the farm fields for winter, and spread gravel in a carport, which will be used as a produce processing station come spring.
All of this outdoor interaction is fun and it fulfills our students’ community service obligations, but more importantly it brings them in direct contact with the earth and its habitats. That first-hand learning often is all that is necessary to make believers of our students in the importance of changing their personal environmental footprint.
In my experience, students think this is such a “big” problem that it’s insurmountable. I actually feel that way at times – when I stand with an empty soda can in my hand and wrestle with the thought that the garbage can is next to me but the recycling bin is down the hall. The worser me used to win. Now, thanks to a year of consciousness-raising while working with our earnest eco-students, I trot down the hall, can in hand, to fulfill my recycling obligations.
When you are sitting around the Thanksgiving table with your students next month, give thanks for our bountiful earth, then spark a spirited family conversation about what we can do to push the collective American conscience in the right direction.
Start small. Commit to reusable shopping bags (here in New Jersey, our government is forcing the issue anyway). Unplug your chargers when they are not in use; turn off your computer when it is idle; turn off the lights; wash clothes in cold water; skip the clothes dryer; turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth; recycle; walk; use an e-reader; switch to energy-saving light bulbs; switch to a low-flow showerhead and shorten the time in the shower; take only the food you want and eat what you take; eat your leftovers; use food before it expires; yada, yada, yada.
In other words, as parents, it falls to us to help our children become eco-responsible adults who will leave the world in a better state for their children. If we set the example (and set the rules) in our house, our children will follow. It’s the right thing to do, but even more importantly the world of our children’s children depends on it.