Students strive for sustainability through environment’s protection

Photo+by+Kai+Ford

Photo by Kai Ford

Ji-Sung Lee

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike any typical senior, Quinn Cunningham is applying to colleges and thinking about post graduate plans; however, he doesn’t stop there.  A leader of the Rock Bridge Reaches Out (RBRO) Environmental Coalition core, Cunningham is passionate about caring for the earth.  He has always been interested in the environment, especially its protection.
“[I] think that as a human society, we have become too far disconnected to the land, which has had adverse effects on our social fabric,” Cunningham said. “When human society disconnected itself from nature, it gave itself license to do whatever it might want, irresponsibly using or destroying our natural resources and habitats.”
Despite the detachment Cunningham sees between humans and the earth, Dr. Andrew Case, an environmental science and studies professor at Washington College, said humans have long found ways to work together to clean up the environment.   Additionally, he said many parts of America would be unrecognizable without the environmental protection policies implemented in the early 1970’s.
[quote]“These policies changed how we disposed of things and improved public health.  In fact, our lifespans are longer as a result of the Clean Air Act and how it reduced particulate matter in the air,” Dr. Case said.  “As for making the earth as a whole more sustainable, that’s a different challenge.  Most environmental laws are created and enforced by nations within their own boundaries.  International agreements that affect the whole globe have been more difficult to pass and enforce.”[/quote] With international agreements that have become increasingly harder to implement, clubs such as environmental coalition do a variety of tasks to better the environment locally, such as collecting the recycling from around the school and picking up litter from streams and roadsides.  Additionally, Cunningham said the club conducted the lighting audit and collectively built a presentation for the school board on the topic.  
“[Environmental coalition] went to [Rock Bridge] State Park to celebrate its 50th anniversary on a hike and went on the Missouri Stream Team river relief day, collecting trash along the banks of the [Missouri] river,” Cunningham said. “We plan to continue doing projects in this year, as well enjoying nature from the river to the state park.”
The actions of Cunningham show his care for the earth and his drive toward making change in his community.  He is also a recycling ambassador for the City of Columbia.  These ambassadors reach out to the community and volunteer in various civic recycling needs, such as the paint collection, which occurs at the Household Hazardous Waste site.  Dr. Case said these individual choices Cunningham continues to make are certainly important.
“More than anything, they demonstrate a public commitment to environmental issues,” Dr. Case said.  “For the most part, recycling or picking up litter has its greatest impact on the local level and places close to home.”
Along with Cunningham, junior Pranav Patel, another RBRO Environmental Coalition core leader, became interested in the core through one of the first RBRO meetings he attended. To Patel, Environmental Coalition stood out more than other cores because he felt he could have a major influence on his school and community.
“I was part of several RBRO cores throughout my freshman and sophomore years, but there was something missing about these cores that didn’t correlate to the way I wanted to have an impact,” Patel said. “Many other cores prepare for big events and fundraise for resources that help the community in a big way, but I wanted to do something every month/week that would have a minor impact rather than waiting for something in the future.”
Similarly to the environmental change Patel wishes to see happen on his community, Cunningham believes something such as the RBHS recycling program is serving as an educational tool to the students of the school. Based off estimates, Cunningham said for the first quarter of reporting on the school’s recycling, the school should expect to divert at least 10 tons of plastic and aluminum from its waste stream into the recycling system. As for the switch to light emitting diodes (LED), which Cunningham proposed to the school board, he said the school should see savings of more than $25,000 a year, including over 450,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere a year.
[quote]“That is just [RBHS]. As long as the project goes through here, it will continue on to many of the other [Columbia Public Schools]. You can probably estimate the impact of that,” Cunningham said.  “For students to see others if not themselves using the bins and seeing them fill up, it encourages them to develop environmentally-friendly habits as they grow older.”[/quote] While Cunningham has always had a passion for the environment, Patel said his drive to continue with Environmental Coalition was based off of the lack of custodians at school. Even if recycling bins are cleaned within two weeks, insects start to establish near the bins, Patel said.  
Furthermore, Patel believes a lot of people don’t consider the time and energy that is required to keep the school clean.  Patel just wanted to help with that, but also contribute to keeping the school clean.  Besides having an effect on the well-being and safety of students and staff, Patel said whenever he gets done cleaning the recycling bins, he feels a great sense of pride.
“I guess cleaning the recycling bins in general is my favorite part, even though it might seem like strenuous/dirty manual work,” Patel said. “The mindset towards cleaning the recycling bins helps bring out the joy in doing so.”
In general, Dr. Case said being eco-friendly means to take into account the natural systems that support people and to try to limit the impact humans have on those system.  Generally, he believes it applies to products and production practices.  Additionally, Dr. Case draws importance to the “old three R’s––Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” which are ordered in importance.  Moving forward, Dr. Case believes the biggest concerns for the environment are food, water, and energy.  
“These three issues are closely intertwined and highlight the big question of how we will live in the next century or so,” Dr. Case.  “Some parts of the world enjoy an abundance of those three things, other parts of the world not so much. The challenge lies in finding ways to provide those things in a way that is fair and affordable and doesn’t wreck ecosystems or the climate.”
Are you doing anything to make the earth more sustainable? Let us know in the comments below.