Earth Day raises climate awareness

Kristin Scudder

Villanova celebrated Earth Day with a keynote address, faculty and student presentations and a concert and BBQ in an effort to spread environmental awareness.

Events kicked off on April 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Connelly Cinema with the annual Earth Day keynote address given by ecologist Dr. Sandra Steingraber. Steingraber’s address was titled “Contaminated Without Consent: How Exposures to Chemical Pollutants Violate Human Rights and What We Can Do About It.”

Steingraber has researched the links between cancer and environmental contamination. After much research, she wrote the book “Living Down Stream” in 1998. After having her first child, she wrote another book, “Having Faith,” which explores the intimate ecology of motherhood.

According to Steingraber, the problem is that toxic chemicals are regulated and policed rather than phased-out. When a toxin is discovered in a product, scientists figure out a threshold – the maximum amount of this toxin to which a human can safely be exposed. However, they do not take into consideration that humans are being exposed to many toxic chemicals, not just that one. In addition, scientists do not take into account the timing of the exposure.

In order to show the importance of the timing of exposure, Steingraber took the audience through key points in a human lifespan. She began with the connection of air pollution to fertility. Then she discussed the first stage of the lifespan: the implantation of the egg. Steingraber explained that certain chemicals used on crops have the ability to interfere with cell signals and cause miscarriages.

“It’s time for a public conversation about this,” Steingraber said. “Chemicals that have the power to end a pregnancy have no place in our society and should be banned from use.”

According to Steingraber, evidence in California has shown that the closer women live to farm fields, the higher their risk is of having a still birth. In addition, industrial chemicals found in the soil have also shown to be a cause of birth defects. Steingraber discussed how exposure to metals such as lead and mercury during pregnancy can cause learning disabilities in children.

Steingraber emphasized her point that the old idea of simply looking at the quantity of exposure to a single chemical must be eliminated and the totality and timing of exposure must be taken into consideration. Steingraber said that individuals should see the release of toxins into the environment as a violation of human rights.

Steingraber concluded her address by reading a passage from “Having Faith” and then opened the floor to questions. The address was followed by a book signing.

Earth Day events continued throughout the day on April 18. The annual Earth Day festivities were held in Connelly Center from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Students from the Environmental Science class presented posters about their semester-long projects, which developed ways to make Villanova more environmentally conscious. Some of the projects included bike share programs; new shower heads that use less water; the addition of biodegradable plates, cups and to-go boxes in the dinning halls; and solar panel backpacks that charge laptops.

The event was attended mostly by teachers, professionals and friends of the students.

“The events were not well-publicized,” said sophomore Jackie Fay, a student in Environmental Science. “The only people who knew about the events were those who had to attend them.”

However, Fay did have positive feedback about the event.

“Students were able to get great input on their projects and advice on what steps to take next to work toward implementing their ideas on campus,” she said.

In addition to these presentations, “Recycling Rick” – Villanova’s Recycling Coordinator Richard Laudenslager – gave out free sodas and veggie burgers. Free samples of Sun & Earth products – environmentally safe cleaning products – were also given out.

The Earth Day Rock n’ BBQ was held from 3-7 p.m by the Villanova Environmental Group. This consisted of a live concert with three student bands at the Oreo and then a BBQ on Sheehan Beach.

“The goal of the event was to involve students in the conversation over improving environmental practices at Villanova,” said Jake Schonecker, the event’s organizer. “For too long, students haven’t been involved in the administration’s efforts to improve sustainability.”

Schonecker said that part of the idea for the Earth Day concert was to provide something to attract students and spread awareness.

VEG and students in environmental studies worked together to create the Student Sustainability Proposal, which consists of four attainable initiatives that they believe would improve life at Villanova. These initiatives include investing in renewable energy, installing compact florescent lights in every West Campus apartment, providing reusable bottles for every student and creating a bike rental program on campus. They received several hundred signatures on Earth Day.

Earth Day events concluded on April 22 with a presentation in Bartley Hall titled “Earth Day: Save South Campus; Save the World.” The ACS Environmental Learning Community shared how they have worked to help make South Campus greener, stressing that lessening the impact of human activity on climate starts with changes made by individuals where they live.