Environmentalists stress conservation

As the 35th anniversary of Earth Day is celebrated Friday, environmental leaders on campus and citywide are issuing messages of conservation and awareness to college students.

Earth Day was first celebrated April 22, 1970, and is widely believed to have marked the beginning of the modern American environmental movement. Some now feel that its ideals — oneness with nature, conservation and a reverence for the earth — have faded in the years since then.

Earth Day may have lost some of its focus as people have been lulled by a sense of responsibility transfer as developments like the Environmental Protection Agency and institutional recycling have fallen into place, said Robert Griffin, a Marquette professor and member of a National Academy of Sciences committee on environmental contamination.

"Earth Day is petering down a little bit," said Owen Goldin, an associate professor of philosophy and an environmental philosopher. "People get burned out. Maybe it's time for the new blood to kick in."

On campus, environmental educators like Goldin are stressing attention to environmental issues internationally and everyday awareness in equal measure.

"We need stereoscopic vision — we need to look at the big picture while still focusing on day-to-day activities," Goldin said.

Year-round conservation on a personal scale is also a goal to be worked toward, according to Goldin.

"When you're shopping, can you spend a little more on something that's a lot more environmentally efficient?" Goldin said. "Can you avoid certain packaging? Can you think about the agricultural processes involved?"

Clifford Crandall, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, also listed small-step conservation as something to think about on Earth Day.

"An awareness of the impact actions have on the environment, no matter how small" is a goal college students should strive to achieve, he said. "Don't be wasteful, and expand that to all areas."

But small-scale efforts may not be as important as international vigilance, according to Michael Vater, an associate professor of philosophy and environmental philosopher.

Christopher DeSousa, assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has studied the environment of Milwaukee, echoes the conservation sentiment of the Marquette faculty.

Students "should take this day to think about what they can do" to help our environment, DeSousa said. "People just don't look at their day-to-day activities." DeSousa said buying locally produced items and organic produce and reconsidering transportation options are issues of special importance.

Citywide, environmental leaders encourage college students to volunteer and get connected to the environment in other hands-on ways.

"For me, Earth Day is a time of reflection and rededication to your stewardship of the Earth," said Lynn Broaddus, executive director of Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers, a nonprofit advocacy organization. "Each of us needs to recommit in some way. People take a lot of things for granted."

Volunteerism can be one way to reconnect to the Earth, according to Broaddus.

"The most important thing is just getting involved," said Sara Vondrachek, an environmental educator at the Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Place. "If (students) can reconnect to the land, that's a big thing."

Vondrachek said fostering a sense of "stewardship and ownership of the earth" is essential to creating an awareness of the earth.

"If you don't make that connection, you're not going to take care of it," she said.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on April 21 2005.