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EarthQuakers: things are looking green

Is green the new red and black at Haverford?

Despite the mixed results of two Spring Plenary resolutions aimed at environmental issues, according to the environmental action group Earthquakers (EQ), consciousness of environmental and sustainability issues on campus is expanding.

Founded in 1993 by Jed Brody ’97, now a Senior Lecturer in Physics at Emory University, EarthQuakers merged two existing environmental student groups that focused on campus and local work, such as raising money for the arboretum and hosting weekly letter-writing campaigns.

“I’m proudest of the Tree-A-Thon,” said Brody in an email. “We raised over $700 for the Nature Conservancy by spending four hours in big trees on Founders Green.”

Since then, EarthQuakers has changed dramatically. Indeed, many freshmen might not recognize the organization at all. According to co-head Lydie Costes ’12, the club “died” last semester due to a lack of involvement. But now, with some hundred students on its email list, EQ is trying to lay the groundwork for the group to “make itself known on campus,” said co-head Paloma Jeretic ’12. Jeretic says their goals reach farther than just awareness, they want to change the way Haverford thinks about and approaches the environment.

EarthQuakers on campus

While size and interest levels have fluctuated over time, the group’s vision remains global in scope but local in focus, aiming to change “campus culture” and raise “awareness of environment issues” within the community. Costes, in addressing what she sees as one her most pressing goals, summed up this local commitment, vowing “Let’s get rid of all paper towels on campus.”

In search of opportunities for campus involvement, earlier this semester EarthQuakers sent out a student body survey that identified a number of concerns about sustainability on campus. In addition to partnering with Bryn Mawr and local foods groups to host an “EarthQuakers Awareness Day,” EQ is hoping to provide students with more local foods and reduce general energy consumption.

EQ is also reaching out to different members of the community to brainstorm and implement projects. The group recently collaborated with Claudia Kent, Assistant Director of Facilities Management for Grounds and Sustainability, to reintroduce the “light fairies,” a program that employs two students who walk around campus, turn off lights and measure the temperature in different buildings.

Controversy at Plenary

EQ Co-heads Paloma Jeretic '12, Lydie Costes '12 and Celia Ristow '14

In addition to a resolution on composting which passed, this semester’s plenary saw a proposed amendment to the Honor Code, supported in part by the EQ co-heads, that would have made respecting “the physical environment” of the College a component of what is generally known as the “social Honor Code,” or portions of the Code dealing with social conduct. After heated debate, the resolution failed to pass.

“By emphasizing particular violations in the social aspect of the Code, we run the risk of de-emphasizing that which is not expressly mentioned in the Code.” said Zachary Gabor ’15, in an email to The Clerk, echoing a common criticism of the resolution which Gabor spoke against at Plenary. “If we try to make up for this by further amending the Code to include reference to every particular category of social violation, we will have just transformed it into an ordinary rule book, robbing it of its special power.”

EarthQuakers’ leaders, however, disagree.

“For a school that has such a commitment to social justice, it’s interesting that the commitment doesn’t extend to the environment,”  said co-head Celia Ristow ’14.

Disappointed by the reaction their resolution received, the group’s co-heads also recognized a problem in communication. “We had some great discussions with people and when we collected signatures people were really into it,” said Jeretic. “As a group we weren’t really unified and weren’t convincing enough…Most people don’t read resolutions before and just absorb what they hear on the spot.”

The failure of the plenary resolution left the co-heads, and others invested in the resolution, feeling hurt. In the hours after plenary, dozens of students posted in a popular GO! thread expressing both disappointment at the resolutions failure and dissatisfaction with the level of discourse on both sides.

“I was disappointed that that argument became lost in what I thought was overly meticulous attention to the specific implications of the changes,” said Eric Smith ’15, writing in the GO! thread.

Future of environmental activism on campus

Those looking for a green revolution at Haverford may have to keep waiting. “It’s only a few students. It’s not a groundswell,” said Ristow.

Yet despite the resolution’s failure, the College continues to implement measures that promote sustainability.

Dining Services, in partnership with the CER, is planning a pilot composting program in the Dining Center. Elsewhere on campus, individual offices have the opportunity to assess their environmental impact and set greening goals through the “Green Squirrel” Green Office Program. To qualify, campus offices must meet various criteria such as using reusable mugs and at least 25 percent recycled paper products, as well as utilizing alternative modes of transit like SEPTA, bicycling, and PhillyCarShare.

Kent seems confident that environmentalism at Haverford is moving forward. “This academic year has been the most productive for CER since its inception in 2000. The students on the committee are passionate about environmental issues and the work they’ve accomplished has been extraordinary,” said Kent.

Jeretic, reflecting on her Haverford experience, noted that when she first came to Haverford, there was little enthusiasm for the cause. “I was amazed at how not-environmentally aware people were…not caring at all,” Jeretic said. “Little by little, people are more aware.”

PHOTO CREDIT – Jon Yu ’12 for the Clerk