By Ellie Gavin || Campus Life Editor
This year, the The Wohlsen Center for the Sustainable Environment and F&M Divest organized the first annual F&M Eco-Inspired Citizen Writing Competition.
The goal, according to creator and organizer Mario Williams ’16, was to “engage students to think critically about their relationship with the environment and give students an artistic channel to express how they feel about the natural world… The concept for the competition arose out of a desire to engage students about environmental awareness and to promote campus sustainability,” Williams said.
Williams pitched his idea for an essay competition to Suzanna Richter, Assistant Dean of the College, and Sarah Dawson, director of the Wohlsen Center for the Sustainable Environment, who helped him organize it with the help of New College House, the Wohlsen Center, and F&M Divest.
“[Richter and Dawson] were very excited about “bottom-up,” grassroots environmental initiatives run by students, in which we could also learn about what environmental problems students prioritize and how they believe that humans might find viable solutions for them,” Williams said.
The contest received 20 total submissions and awarded two winners. The first place winner, Mahra Crone ’19, was awarded a House of Marley Chant Bluetooth Portable Audio System. The second place winner was awarded lunch for them and their friends at any local Lancaster restaurant, courtesy of Richter.
First place winner Crone is a prospective Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major. She plans to become a surgeon, hoping to one day join the Doctors Without Borders program in South America. She says she sees herself as continuing to be an active member in the fight for “worldwide environmental health.”
Crone says that she has been interested in learning about the environment since, as an elementary school student, she heard a speaker discuss the ways in which everyone can help keep the environment healthy.
“Being only eight years old, it amazed me that my actions could have such an impact on our planet,” Crone said.
Since then, Crone’s interest in environmental issues has only grown. The inspiration for this essay, she says, grew out of her shock at how much misinformation exists regarding the environment and climate change.
“My inspiration for this essay stemmed from how appalled I was that many things I had been taught relating to the environment were wrong,” Crone said.
One popular misconception that particularly bothers Crone is the denial of global warming on the basis of it being a cold winter.
“ Many have yet to understand that global warming’s effects are so much more than an overall increase in our planet’s temperature,” Crone said. “This is why it is sometimes referred to as global climate change,” she said. “This change is the reason for having a relatively mild winter, and then getting hit by a snowstorm that dumps 27 inches in a day. It includes an increase in the strength and frequency of hurricanes and storms. Nothing would make me happier than if I stopped seeing Facebook posts discrediting global warming because of a cold winter day.”
Beyond the denial of global climate change, Crone says that if there is one thing she wishes everyone knew or realized about the environment it would be the impact of meat consumption on the earth.
“As a pescatarian, I was very interested to learn about the impact that eating meat has on the environment.” Crone said. “I learned last semester that, if Americans skipped eating meat just one day a week the effect would be the equivalent of not driving for 91 billion miles, or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.”
Crone’s winning essay is printed below. For the full essay, visit the-college-reporter.com
Sophomore Ellie Gavin is the Campus Life Editor of the College Reporter. Her email is email@example.com
Ignorance is Bliss || Mahra Cohen
A polar bear clings to life. It looks up towards the sky pleadingly, as if begging for help. Its glacier habitat has been destroyed by an unprecedented amount of CO2 emissions; it hangs onto a last little chunk of ice. If you listen closely, you can hear the voice of an Earth Science teacher many miles away, echoing in the minds of students that “global climate change isn’t real.”
In my lifetime, I have attended five different school systems in four different states. In 13 years of public education, there was only one instance where global climate change and its effects were even mentioned. My eighth grade Earth Science teacher was in the middle of lecturing about the atmosphere. “Now,” he began, “people will try to convince you that humans have contributed to the increase in carbon dioxide, and that this has effects on weather patterns… but that’s a bunch of hooey.”
Nelson Mandela once said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (Mandela). How can the next generation be expected to “change the world,” when they do not know what they are fighting to change? (Mandela) The most pressing environmental issue existing today is a severe lack of education about what is happening to our environment. This issue can be rectified with the creation of a new curriculum that involves teaching about environmental problems, forced implementation of this curriculum nationwide, and the flow of this important information throughout society.
The United States’ public education curriculum does not highlight the importance of our environmental issues. The science information currently taught to students has not been updated by the National Research Council or the American Association for Advancement in Science since the mid-1990’s, nearly 20 years ago (NGSS Lead States). This means that a lot of the material that students learn is out of date, or even incorrect. To put this into perspective, the Hubble Space Telescope observed the first planet outside of our solar system only seven years ago. Thankfully, many people across the nation have recognized the need for a shift in science education; especially one that involves current information about important subjects like the environment. 26 states in America worked together to create a set of guidelines, called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), that gives school systems an ideal outline of how to teach their students (NGSS Lead States). NGSS is an updated framework that includes sections on global climate change and human attributions to it (NGSS Lead States). The creation of these standards is the first step in preparing our world for the battle against environmental issues.
However, it appears that the adoption of these standards must be mandatory. As of November 2014, only 12 states, including the District of Columbia, had adopted the NGSS to their science curricula. Pennsylvania has not chosen to implement these standards. Perhaps by coincidence, Pennsylvania is the second most polluted state in America. This fact shows the correlation between the ignorance of environmental issues and the rise of even more environmental issues. I suggest that states who choose not to put the NGSS into action must then volunteer a representative to debate with a climate scientist about the reasoning behind their choice. This will serve to show the aforementioned state, and other states in the U.S., that there are far more reasons to implement the NGSS, rather than to not. America will be be largely improved once every student in our country has access to updated information about climate change.
Perhaps more important than ensuring that accurate material is being taught to our students, is overseeing the flow of this knowledge from the students to their families, and throughout society. It makes no difference to teach a child that humans are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases if their parents dismiss the idea the minute the child arrives home. Even my own parents brush me off when I chastise them for not using the recycling bin that they were given, free of charge, by their waste management company. They, like many others, do not realize the effect that their interruption has on the important flow of knowledge. It is vital that families reinforce their student’s education, rather than impede it. Thus, school systems must maintain healthy communication with the families of their students. If teachers send emails or notes home about what their students are being taught- and how families can help- then it is more likely that families will refrain from poisoning the students’ minds with outdated and biased information. With open minds, the families can even learn a thing or two. Families are the societal cog that will turn the gears for change.
The next generation will only add to our growing environmental problems if they are not made aware of the causes and effects of these problems. Therefore, the most important environmental issue today is a lack of education. It is crucial that we create a curriculum that focuses on environmental issues, enforce the teaching of this curriculum, and allow this knowledge to thoroughly permeate throughout our country. We will be better equipped to battle our environmental foes once we are able to see them.