Reflections on Earth Week 2020

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day received a warm virtual welcome from universities, organizations, governments and more across the globe in the wake of COVID-19. The University of Vermont provided online content from mini film series about climate change and its impacts on mental health to a panel dedicated to discussing the relationship between COVID-19 and climate change. 

We encouraged our Eco-Reps to get involved not only with UVM programming, but with programming offered by other entities. One of our Change Agents, Mackenzie Laverick, provided us with some feedback on both the Environmentalist Webinar (Alaska Edition, hosted by University of Alaska Fairbanks) and PBS’s 2020 Documentary Plastic Wars (Episode 14). We are pleased to share her insights with you below: 

 

A Reflection on the Environmentalist Webinar Summary (Alaska Edition: hosted by University of Alaska Fairbanks) by Mackenzie Laverick 

Earlier this month I attended one of the 52 webinars happening across the United States and several countries that focused on dealing with climate change. The webinar began with a quick introduction, followed by the first speaker, Eive, who represented indigenous voices from Alaska. She explained how colonialism had impacted the indigenous people and their relationship with the earth, as well as everyone in the US’s relationship with nature. One of the main proponents of colonialism was the idea of “manifest destiny,” which justified the constant taking of land, resources, and more that early “pioneers” participated in as they made their way westward across the continent. 

The mindset of being able to take whatever you want hurts the earth. Eive repeatedly stated that this mindset has only continued and grown since those pioneering years, and that it needs to change. She suggested changing the rules, focusing less on taking more resources and instead looking at what we can give or give up to help achieve a less harmful relationship with our environment. 

Furthermore, Eive talked about the importance of looking to indigenous knowledge for guidance, as they have had a long, healthy relationship with nature for many, many years. It’s also important to respect native people’s rights and acknowledge their seniority and land claims.

The next speaker, Terry, talked about carbon footprints and different ways to reduce the size of those tracks. A carbon footprint is the amount of resources needed/exploited divided by the number of resources regenerated. Some areas with large carbon footprints are transportation, especially planes and the oil industry. Terry talked about different solutions, divided into several categories:

1. Individual actions: celebrating connections with nature, reducing unnecessary consumption, shifting social norms, and more.

2. Dialogue: talking with others, building trust, indicating urgency of the situation.

3. Community: working together to build a better world.

4. Social and Political Actions: citizens joining together, voting, working for policy change, challenging inequities.

After his talk, he encouraged all of us to do something, no matter how small, to help reduce our carbon footprints.

The third speaker was Bruno, a man who works with building net-zero houses and cabins. Many of the designs are based on indigenous people’s housing that were built to survive the harsh Alaskan climate. He mentioned that in Alaska there are 33 communities personally impacted by climate change, right now. The goal of the business he works for is to create sustainable houses that use 75-85% less fuel than normal non-renewable energy sources or completely net-zero houses. He showed several designs that help make this possible, using solar collectors, different insulators, window types, air sealing window and door materials, and different heating systems that all help reduce energy use and often are cheaper in the long run.

The final spokesperson was Nanaeein, who was a local high school student in Fairbanks. She participated in a “Fridays for our Future” event, started by Greta Thunberg. She wrote a resolution for her high school and they showed support for resisting climate change in a local rally. Nanaeein also presented her position on climate change at the Alaska First Nations (AFN) Conference and convinced them to declare a state of emergency that will lead to the development of a “task force” with the goal of combating climate change. She also talked about some things she does personally to reduce her carbon footprint, including planting seeds for her own garden, eating local, and so on.

Overall the conference was very interesting and it’s nice to know a lot of people care about climate change and realize the adverse effects it’s having on our world. Hopefully we can all band together to make the change the world needs to see.

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A Reflection on PBS’s 2020 Documentary Plastic Wars (Episode 14) by Mackenzie Laverick

I was shocked watching PBS’s 2020 Documentary Plastic Wars (Episode 14). I knew the plastic industry, and waste management in general, is a very poor field in terms of ability to actually do things and outreach to the public. So many people believe everything with the recycling logo is recyclable and don’t understand that while most of it is technically recyclable, many waste plants (our local MRF included) don’t take everything due to contamination or the high cost needed to actually recycle these items. Some places like my hometown in South Dakota don’t even have a recycling center, and the nearest place (an hour drive away) is only taking 2 types and the paper recycling plant closed down two years ago.

Yet even knowing how much struggle is already going on with the recycling industry versus the rest of the world, the part of the film that really shocked me was how much the throwaway, wasteful, consumerist culture has spread and contaminated places all over the world. This is especially evident in central Asia, which now produces about 60% of the trash that ends up in the ocean.

We’ve been hearing for years to recycle, that plastic straws and bags are killing sea turtles and whales, that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and yet what is being done about it? Some places, Burlington included, have implemented plastic bans. We can all make the personal decision to REDUCE what we consume, then recycle what we can, and (sadly) trash what cannot.

Another thing most people don’t consider is trying to make change not in the middle or end of the linear consumption cycle, but at the BEGINNING. Stop extraction. End manufacturing of plastics. Reach out to the companies, the organizations who make all of these products, fight for administrative changes that prioritize reducing wasteful products and materials and focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling the products that we already have. At this point, I’m sure the world has more than enough plastic to go around. So why don’t we gather all the discards, clean it up, and put our efforts into recycling and reusing it? Changing our economy from linear to circular consumption may seem daunting, but it can be done. A lot of work will be needed from everyone to make it so, but the future generations and the earth itself will thank us for EVERY step we make towards the goal of greening the future. So what’s your first step going to be?