This April marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and we can see the need for sustainability more than ever. Scientists estimate that at least 150 species go extinct every day (Pearce, 2015). Five thousand people die every day as a result of drinking unclean water and 3 million children under the age of 5 die every year due to environmental factors like pollution (Rinkesh, 2019). But our success with reversing damage to the ozone layer and improvement in air quality that has been reported around the world in recent months as a result of decreased burning of fossil fuels reminds us that the earth is resilient. To repair the harm human activity has done to ecosystems, we need to adopt more sustainable practices. Solebury School's values regarding sustainable environmental practices shine forth on our website: “recognizing that individual success is intertwined with the larger world, we encourage students to engage in improving their community.”
This spring Solebury students had the opportunity to enroll in a sustainability elective taught by Diane Downs, Director of Teach2Serve and faculty advisor of SEAC (Solebury Environmental Action Club). The creation of this elective could not have been more timely. As the world grapples with the current coronavirus pandemic, it is important not to forget the environment. Environments under stress from climate change are where viruses like COVID-19 are most prone to emerge since climate change is increasing the number of disease-carrying animals and bringing them into closer contact with humans (McMahon, 2020).
So what are we at Solebury School currently doing to make our community more sustainable? Among other things, SEAC worked with the dining hall during the fall and winter trimester to implement Minimal Meat Fridays with the aim of encouraging the Solebury community to eat healthy vegetarian food and raising awareness of the link between meat consumption and climate change. Four-fifths of the deforestation across the Amazon rainforest is linked to cattle ranching (“How Does Meat in the Diet Take an Environmental Toll?”, 2011). Cows, pigs, and poultry are typically fed corn, soybean meal, and other grains which are grown using large amounts of fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, water, and land. The livestock sector generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all cars, trucks, and automobiles combined. This is why the Dining Hall has begun featuring a healthy vegetarian entree each Friday and community members are encouraged to partake. This also helps to answer the question, “What do vegetarians eat, anyway?” The answer is, “A lot of tasty food.”
Minimal Meat Fridays have morphed into a “virtual” Meat Free Friday as a result of the current pandemic. Community members photograph themselves eating a meat-free meal and then upload the pictures to a google form. As a bonus, participants earn points for their house (Washburn, Erskine, Holmquist, Lathrop) when they eat meat-free meals.
Sustainability at Solebury School is an ongoing effort. Some of the other sustainable practices we have adopted include composting, installing large outdoor recycle bins, organizing food drives, the installation of a green wall, and replacing incandescent bulbs with longer-lasting, more efficient LED bulbs. We have been restoring the riparian buffer along the Primrose creek to reduce run-off and support biodiversity in the stream bed and surrounding wetlands and planted a vegetable and pollinator garden, which is intended as a teaching tool for the Science department.
To honor Earth Day 2020, what can you do to make yourself and your community more sustainable? Simple positive habits, like using reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, dishes, and shopping bags, and reducing consumption of meat are a good place to start. When we all act together, small changes in behavior can lead to big improvements in the environment. Perhaps you are using this time to walk or bike more and drive less. With social distancing measures in place, many people are trying to reduce trips to the grocery store while eating more meals at home. This might be a good time to think about creative ways to reduce meat consumption; less meat might be part of the new normal. Even one meatless day a week or restricting your meat consumption to one meal a day can make an impact, especially if many people adopt these changes. It doesn’t matter how you make yourself more sustainable, what matters is everyone coming together to save our environment and ultimately ourselves. Happy belated earth day!
Fred Pearce, et al. "Global Extinction Rates: Why Do Estimates Vary So Wildly?" Yale E360
"How Does Meat in the Diet Take an Environmental Toll?" Scientific American, Scientific American, 28 Dec. 2011
McMahon, Jeff. "Deforestation And Climate Change Could Unleash A Mind-Boggling Number Of Coronaviruses" Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 Apr. 2020
Rinkesh. “51 Shocking Facts About Pollution That Are Seriously Eye-Opening.” Conserve Energy Future, 14 Apr. 2019