Earth Day: The green starts here
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SF State celebrated Earth Day on April 22 through poetry, music, a guided nature walk, speeches and calls to action—on the individual, grassroots, and political levels.

Dean Kassiola, Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, opened the day’s celebration by saying, “I have previously written essays and op-ed pieces entitled ‘Why Earth Day is not enough’ and ‘The Failure of Earth day’ (…) but the current environmental situation is so serious even dire at this time, that I could not pass up the opportunity to express my view of the environmental crisis, and what we need to to do and how we need to think about it.”

“We need to go beyond the symptoms of our environmental problems, and penetrate to their root cause, even if that cause is painful for us to contemplate because it involves the basic conceptions and values of our industrial and consumer way of life.”

“What I propose is that environmental problems like global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain, and so on, not be conceived sole or even most importantly as scientific technological problems, but rather at their root are political and moral problems, based in our misguided materialist values of industrialism.”

He added that since materialism is such an entrenched part of our society, “the changes are not going to come from the ballot box. Changes will not come from top down, but will come from the power and strength of grassroots movements.”

Ellen Wilkinson, who works for an environmental organization called Acterra, invited SF State students to form a campus wide Cool Campaign. This is a six-month program that would help students reduce their carbon footprint by encouraging them to modify their behavior.
“As the Dean mentioned, a lot of people think about environmental issues as a top down issue, as in ‘We’ve got to get the government, we’ve got to get the industries to solve these problems’, and I actually think ‘No, all of us individually have to start making changes.’
The program works by having members pledge to try one energy-saving “challenge” per month – that might mean installing compact fluorescent lamps or turning down the thermostat. Participants report their successes on the group’s discussion of group. At the end of each month, everyone’s results are tallied. Then members can see how much the group’s achievements.
If you want to help start a Cool Campaign, contact Ellen Wilkinson at ellenw@acterra.org or at (650) 962-9876 x306

Elahe Enssani, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at SFSU reminded students about the importance of technology to the environmental movement.
She compared the environmental movement to a three-legged stool with the legs being Policy, Activism and Technology. She said that to tackle climate change, “we should never forget technology as the third leg of the three-legged stool.”

Andy Peri, an instructor in the geography and environmental studies department, spoke and read a poem about the negative effects of plastics on the environment. He said throw-away plastics end up in the ocean, killing birds and fish.

“We are part of the corporate addiction to fossil plastic, making the ocean ecosystems so very spastic,” Peri said. “Have you ever seen an ocean turtle choke with a blocked airway, gasping for life because you needed a plastic bag from Safeway?”

Another speaker, Philip Klasky, a lecturer in the College of Ethnic Studies, led a visualization exercise.

“Think about that place you call your home, that place on the earth, that shimmering lake, that beautiful mountain top, that verdant valley, that desert landscape, put yourself in that place, and while you do that, bring your hands together before you,” Klasky instructed.

“After you think about that place and the people who mean so much to you, look down at your hands…and think about all you can do with those hands of yours—your capacity to write, to take a shovel in hand, to caress a friend, to heal the earth, to restore the earth.”

Ross Mirkarimi, the supervisor for San Francisco’s District 5, said that instead of waiting for our national or state leaders to address global warming, people should act locally.

“When one decides to ban plastic bags, or to speak out against the war or for the environment, the arena to do so, to exercise one’s activism—the perfect place to do so—is right here in San Francisco State University and to do so right here in the city and county of San Francisco,” Mirkarimi said.

Bruce Paton, who teaches courses at SF State on corporate social responsibility, added that businesses and the environment don’t need to be at odds with one another.

“First, when we talk about ‘sustainable’ and ‘business’ in the same sentence, we need to balance the tendency for those of us who focus on the environment to be quite cynical and skeptical of business. It’s important to keep that skepticism, but there’s also another side to this story,” Paton said.

“Amid the hype about greening, there’s an awful lot of good news. There is no business today with a long-term future if it is not addressing sustainability issues.”

He said a study authored by Goldman and Sachs, a banking and security firm, found that “greener and sustainable businesses significantly outperform the market in general.”

Paton added, “Even if you compare [sustainable businesses] with similar companies that are less sustainable, they simply win on an economic basis.”

ECO Students and Orange Band, two environmental organizations that originated on campus, organized the event.

Marielle Earwood, a member of ECO Students and the event’s main coordinator, said that by organizing the event, she connected with a lot of people and felt empowered. “I learned that hope and that optimism is not just in my head. The success of this event gave me hope.”

Online producer Carina Woudenberg contributed to this story.

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Carina Woudenberg | staff producer
Marielle Earwood, the event coordinator for ECO Students, drums up supports for Tuesday's Earth Day event in Jack Adams Hall Apr. 22, 2008.

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