By Taneen Momeni
The Sustainability Cooperative and Fossil Free UMD held the first environmental teach-in on the steps of the Administration Building on Nov. 22.
The teach-in showcased students from various sustainability groups such as SCoop, Fossil Free, Sustainable Ocean Alliance and more. The speakers emphasized the demands that the groups want to see from the university and informed students on the effects of climate change and what they can do individually to make a difference.
“It’s not just students that need to be educated on these issues, it’s also an administration that needs to be further educated on the issues of climate change,” senior environmental science and policy major Max Skogland said.
The three main demands of the groups were: creating a sustainability education class as a general education requirement for everyone at the university, UMD terminating direct use of fossil fuels and having the Maryland university system divest the funds that go toward supporting fossil fuels, Skogland said.
Senior sustainable agriculture major Wade Williams concentrated on the effects of climate change on agriculture and switching from sustainable systems to regenerative. He called for students to make their own food to separate themselves from the corporate system, join community supported agriculture to reduce demand on big corporations, eat vegetarian to reduce the number of resources that go towards raising animals and, finally, to change the way they think.
“Cultivate a positive mindset. Wake up in the morning and decide ‘I’m gonna do this whether it makes a difference or not,’” Williams said. “The best thing you can do is say that you’re going to do something and get some positive energy going because that can really spread.”
Reese Barrett, a freshman chemical engineering major, and Kate Rush, a junior environmental science and policy major, said the university emitted over 175,000 metric tons of carbon in 2017, mostly through electricity usage. The Fossil Free campaign proposed that instead of using natural gas, the university uses biogas—a biofuel that is naturally produced through the decomposition of organic waste—because it is carbon neutral and renewable. Rush said the next step is to have administration implement 100% renewable energy, and the campaigners spoke to other students who currently implement this and said UMD can do it, too.
“It’s just important to think about this in your daily life and just have it become a part of your brain. Just start thinking about how to integrate sustainability into your own life and how you can apply that to institutions around you,” Barrett said.
Junior civil and environmental engineering major Calvin Burns centered his portion on the buildings and their structure, campus waste-sorting and the importance of sustainability education. He said old buildings on campus waste a lot of energy through the inferior building envelope that allows heat to escape, comparing old buildings to a teacup and new buildings to a thermos.
Although building envelope problems are administration-level issues and difficult for the individual to tackle, students can use window seals and foam door sweeps in order to reduce the amount of heat that escapes the building, Burns said.
“In terms of energy and infrastructure, it’s obviously on the administration level… but then there’s also the student side of it. If everybody did their part and prevented heat from exiting their homes and everybody sorted their waste correctly and every single person did their part, landfills would be a lot cleaner,” junior economics major Jason Ludwig said.
Maya Zambrano-Lee, a senior environmental science and policy major, from Sustainable Ocean Alliance explained the impacts climate change has on the ocean: The oceans have gotten exponentially hotter, the heat makes storms last longer, less water is drinkable.
Zambrano-Lee recognized that explaining the effects of the impacts may come across as negative, but she reinforced the idea that change can happen if everyone takes action.
“Never not be optimistic about the change we can make. Despair can literally get us nowhere,” she said. “We have an obligation to protect each other’s homes and each other’s livelihoods.”
Other groups such as the Student Sustainability Committee, Young Democratic Socialists and Science for the People explained the structural changes and proposals that they are working on with the university. Some included the different governmental movements that are used to promote climate action, the importance of global solidarity and the systemic roots of climate change and its denial.
President Wallace Loh appeared at the event, staying long enough to hear the demands of the groups.
“I think it’s going to start the conversation and that’s what we need right now because none of us are expecting this to happen overnight but it needs to be in admins minds as they’re thinking about the energy contract, as they’re thinking about investments, as they’re thinking about the curriculum,” Barrett said. “So this is really good that he and, by proxy, other people heard.”
Fossil Free collaborated with SCoop on this event after deciding to have an event that would be interactive and create a higher disturbance, but also preview the teach-ins next semester, Rush said. Additionally, the groups will hold a rally Dec. 6 in front of the Administration Building to join other climate activist organizations in D.C. for the National Climate Strike.
SCoop plans to hold teach-ins regularly during the spring semester to raise awareness of climate change while educating students on climate action on campus.
“I thought [the teach-in] was a good opportunity to learn… I was happy I came,” Ludwig said. “If every single person cared, we’d be in a better spot.”
Photo Credit: Taneen Momeni/Bloc Reporter.
Taneen Momeni is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.