April 22 is Earth Day. Photo by Grace Hensley.
ALLIE MCKIBBEN | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Earth Day, held on April 22, is a national holiday that honors the achievements of the environmental movement. It also raises awareness of the need to protect the Earth’s natural resources for future generations. This celebration doubles as a stern reminder, however, that humankind has had a substantial negative impact on the environment.
The UN Climate Report released earlier this year said that it is only a matter of years before the “climate time-bomb” detonates with “irreversible consequences.”
Multiple factors play into Earth’s pollution; deforestation, corporate greed and overfishing are just some unsustainable practices plaguing the planet. However, arguably the most damaging act polluting the environment is the mass burning of fossil fuels that people have relied on for centuries. Coal, oil and natural gas are the toxic backbones to most industries across the world and the United States, making it hard for humankind to transition to greener options.
Despite this grim outlook, there is hope of transitioning to more sustainable alternatives. Renewable energy — such as solar- and wind-powered devices — has started to replace fossil fuels and is becoming more popular and more feasible for nations to implement. Just last year, the United States had more than 40% of its electricity come from renewable resources. Furthermore, national policies have been enacted to prevent overfishing and pollution as well as to place about 12% of the country under wildlife preservation.
As for Butler’s community, students and staff alike are working towards making campus more ecologically sound for future Bulldogs. Hannah Howard, a sophomore environmental studies major and the Butler University EcoReps education chair, said that the power of change starts with the self.
“With sustainability, I always think that you’ve got to start with your own life,” Howard said. “Then you’ve got to start in your own community and branch out from there.”
Howard, like many of her EcoRep peers, has a strong affinity for ecological preservation and pushing for sustainable change on Butler’s campus. She took her love for Earth to a new level when she introduced the plarn project to EcoReps. Plarn, which is yarn made from strips of plastic, is a way to repurpose grocery bags. The plastic strips are woven together to make sleeping mats, which Lillie Michael, a junior secondary education major and president of EcoReps, said will be donated to homeless shelters next year.
To date, the club has collected well over 1,000 plastic bags this year through word of mouth, Instagram fliers and Starbucks tabling. The members used 600 bags on the first mat with the second one near completion.
The club will plarn in public on Earth Day in their gazebo takeover from 12 to 3 p.m. In addition, members will be selling sustainable stickers, recycling fliers and conducting an ongoing poll on whether Butler students are vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian.
Michael said the EcoReps gazebo event is exactly how she envisioned spending Earth Day.
“To me, Earth Day means joy, awareness, and time to form bonds with the Butler community on important topics,” Michael said.
EcoReps has been a club at Butler for three years and includes just over 30 members. One of them, Ben Karlgaard, is a first-year pursuing a dual degree in astronomy-astrophysics and electrical engineering. He adopted his passion for environmental sustainability from his parents and joined the club during his fall semester as he found a community that shares a similar sentiment to him.
“We’re all environmentally conscious, and we have a lot of fun,” Karlgaard said. “We do projects throughout the year, it’s just great to be on the same page with everybody and doing something that matters.”
Additionally, Karlgaard is in a first-year seminar, FYS, called “The Climate Project,” taught by Bryan Furuness, a senior English lecturer. He said the course has allowed him to deepen his understanding of climate change as well as other environmental issues and catalyzed his class to make a greener change on Butler’s campus.
Butler uses electrical energy derived from local electric utility company AES, which burns fossil fuels, on campus. In an effort to conserve energy, Karlgaard and his group are trying to fix lamp posts around campus for their final project.
“We noticed [the lampposts] were on during the day,” Karlgaard said. “On the mall, behind Irwin, they’re all on when, obviously, they don’t need to be. Our first goal was to try to fix the timers or get in contact with someone who could change the timers.”
Karlgaard and his group were able to successfully change the lamppost timers so they only turn on when there is limited daylight. He said the next step in his project is to limit electrical usage from the posts through the installation of solar panels, for which they must seek a grant. The group is in contact with Shanna Stuckey, director of the Office Sponsored Programs, who is helping them find grants to apply for. Once they receive a grant, Karlgaard said John Lacheta, manager of facilities operations, would work on the actual implementation of solar panels.
Karlgaard’s FYS group is continuing their project beyond their time in the classroom and into the following semester. He believes the university administration has been fairly compliant with their project so far.
“As the leaders of campus, it’s important that [Butler administrators] are essentially role models and leading the way for students,” Karlgaard said. “It’s up to the administration to show students that it’s easy to be sustainable, and these are some of the ways you can do it.”
Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability
Taylor Coleman is a senior biology major, environmental studies minor and an intern for the Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, CUES, which works to encourage sustainable habits throughout campus. She agrees with Karlgaard, especially since the university has the power to effectively weave in ecologically conscious initiatives.
“[Butler] has the money to enact change,” Coleman said. “[Projects are] quite pricey and, yeah, each individual person can do their part. But if [the Butler administration] is willing to lend a hand, it does expedite the process and will do something to actually make a change.
CUES has a variety of initiatives including the Green Grad program, in which seniors pledge to fulfill sustainability requirements in order to get an extra cord for graduation, and their work with Indy Wildlife Watch, where motion-sensored cameras work to collect data on animals in the Indianapolis area.
Although the center has many projects in progress, the CUES office’s biggest project in actual size is The Farm at Butler. The Farm, an acre set next to I-Lot, is home to several different plants that are sold directly to the community as well as to the university. Select produce is sold to Bon Appétit, Butler’s partner in dining service, to support the company’s mission of spending at least 20% on locally-grown produce.
The Farm also sells flowers and smaller plants to the Indianapolis community. While trees, shrubs and wildflowers are not for sale, the Farm grows them to improve the natural environment.
Agriculture is also an industry that can harm the environment. Pesticides and chemicals that many farmers use seep into the soil, which can make drinking water toxic and destroy natural habitats. Additionally, after all the effort of planting, growing and harvesting crops, 119 billion pounds of produce are thrown away each year. Although the Farm is a sustainable project, environmental experts debate whether or not smaller farms are sustainable for the whole planet. Tim Dorsey, The Farm manager for CUES, said rather than rely on smaller farms, agriculture needs to make its large industry sustainable.
“There is an increasing place for small, medium farms to add more sustainable initiatives in recent years,” Dorsey said. “But I think it’s gonna be really critical for larger farms to make a large-scale change. We need them to.”
The Farm not only produces food and other flora, but it is also a way for Butler students to get exposed to and involved with ecologically sound practices. Dorsey said many different classes at Butler have included the Farm in their programs.
Dorsey said that to him, Earth Day is about taking care of the planet — whatever is “right beneath our feet.” For Butler students, that includes Indianapolis. Last month, Indianapolis was ranked as one of the worst-polluted major cities in the United States. However, with the help of EcoReps, CUES and the Butler community, it could be possible to transform Indianapolis into a healthier city for all its residents.