Earth Day turns to grass roots to celebrate, save the planet

Emily Dalnodar

Earth Day descends upon the University bearing the same message instilled 28 years ago on its inception: Take care of the planet.
But a lot has changed in three decades.
The depletion of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect loom overhead. Frogs are deformed and rain forests are being depleted. Cleaner living and recycling are no longer a novel concept, they’re a goal.
In various ways — some little, some big — University members find the means to do their part for the community and for Mother Earth — efforts that come to a head this week, but carry on throughout the year.

Earth Day history
The Earth Day celebration officially takes place on two different occasions: one on March 21 and the other on April 22 — both begun in 1970.
The March 21 commemoration was the brainchild of John McConnell, then an environmental activist in San Francisco. After proposing a day to celebrate Earth to the city board of supervisors, the mayor made it official.
McConnell intended the day to fall on spring’s equinox, when day and night equally divide the sky. Earth Day was to symbolize “the beautiful systems of balance which humanity has partially upset and must restore,” according to the Earth Day Resolution. The San Francisco celebration was intended as an annual event.
San Francisco’s mayor issued an official proclamation making March 21, 1970 the first Earth Day. But later that year, another event toting the same name drew enormous media attention.
Wisconsin Democrat Senator Gaylord Nelson saw the effects of an oil platform blowout off the California coast earlier that year. Fed up with environmental irresponsibility, he planned a nationwide teach-in for April 22.
He called it Earth Day, and more than 20 million people turned out for events held across the country to learn, rally and protest about environmental action. The country united for a common goal, inspiring a new emphasis on environmental issues evidenced by measures such as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
On the one-year anniversary of the March Earth Day, the United Nations also officially proclaimed its recognition of the event. Today, officials still celebrate it on March 21 by ringing the U.N. Peace Bell at the moment of the equinox.
Another environmental declaration soon followed. In 1971, Nelson announced every third week in April Earth Week, and the concept stuck. Now along with the day, a week is dedicated in observance of the Earth.
Since then the national Clean Air and Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act have been instated. And now an estimated 200 million people in more than 140 countries honor Earth Day, making it one of the most widely recognized events on the globe.

Earth Week activities
The University hosted numerous eco-activities this week, including an environmental fair, Wetlands and Mississippi River Flats clean-up and a camp-out at Coffman Union.
Minneapolis band The Big Wu plays outside Coffman Union today at noon to celebrate Earth Day.
“We feel (Earth Day) is a day that doesn’t get as much talking about as it should,” said Jason Fladager, vocalist and second guitarist for the band. “We all feel happy to be a part of the celebration.”
Locally, the group is synonymous with the Grateful Dead, but has branched out with many of their own tunes. “We feel our audience is made up primarily of environmentally conscious individuals. We also strongly encourage people to share and respect the environment,” Fladager said.
For the University community, Earth Day does not signify the end of Earth Week. Activities and events promoting environmental awareness will continue through Saturday.
Both St. Paul Student Center and Coffman Union officials will host “Ride Your Bike to the U” on Thursday. Commuters who normally drive to school for class or work will have incentive to ditch their wheels for one day.
Those who show up on two wheels can receive free water bottles and stickers for their effort.
On Friday, students and staff can purchase seedlings to plant from the St. Paul Student Center to celebrate Arbor Day. Others will visit Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant.
These activities, not to mention a host of informational conferences and lectures offered, make up the week-long celebration of Earth. But when the week is over the message doesn’t go away.

Making a difference
Eco-friendly opportunities exist across campus for students who look. But some students go out of their way to volunteer time at University or other sponsored organizations.
The Nature Conservancy preserves Minnesota landscape by purchasing land with native vegetation and restoring and maintaining its natural wilderness.
“Volunteers are critical for getting the work done,” said Andrzej Kozlowski, volunteer coordinator for the program. “And we are constantly looking for University students to volunteer.”
Through the use of volunteers the group performs routine maintenance on the land it purchases. They do things such as restore native prairie, plant trees and encourage native plant species.
Some of the group’s members include those with degrees in ecology, law and management, Kozlowski said. Much of the work they do revolves around scientific-based decisions and politics.
Another group, the University’s Environmental Backpacking Club, toured the Reuse Center in the Phillips Neighborhood.
The center, started by the Phillips Neighborhood Green Institute , sells reused building materials and offers home-improvement classes. They rely on student volunteers to stay in business.
“They need help to restock and deconstruct houses (for material),” said Julie Kesti, a College of Liberal Arts junior and member of the backpacking group. In addition to learning about trail safety and taking hiking trips, she said the group also plans to volunteer at the center in the upcoming months.
The center is also home to a Yellow Bike Hub. Originating in 1995, the Yellow Bike Coalition leases bicycles so people can get around town without a car.
At first, they loaned bikes on an honor system, but many bikes were stolen. This year a $10 deposit is necessary for a Yellow Bike Card that is good at all hubs, and the bikes can be used all day. The card can be used indefinitely — and when it’s returned, so is the deposit.
Neighborhood kids do much of the work, said Lonnie Nichols, program director for the Phillips Neighborhood. They take damaged or forgotten bikes and learn to repair them for the coalition, sometimes getting a bike for themselves out of the deal.


University efforts
University officials said they actively try to urge environmentally safe practices. Probably the most obvious effort is the campuswide recycling program.
Started in 1984, the program has grown so that more than 12,000 recycling bins dot the campus. People can recycle newspaper, office paper, bottles and cans at the bins.
Facilities Management officials are also doing their part to keep up with environmentally conscious practices. They make mulch from tree and lawn clippings that they can later use as fertilizer. This eliminates the need for chemical-based fertilizers, said Jim Blake, facilities support supervisor for the University.
They also work in conjunction with Northern States Power Co. The power company has a huge tub grinder that turns larger chunks of brush and trees into wood chips. Grounds crews use the chips bordering buildings and trees on campus for free.
“The gardeners working for me will come up with ideas they’d like to try,” Blake said. They are always trying new things that are better for the environment and save the University money, he said.

Earth Day every day
There are things people can do for the environment every day.
Simple daily changes can make a world of difference, according to suggestions by the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.
Recycle. The University has receptacles all over campus for cans, bottles and office paper.
Eliminate unnecessary waste by packing lunches in reusable containers with cloth napkins and reusable silverware.
Carpool, bus or bike to campus instead of taking a single-occupancy vehicle.
Unplug some electricity for a day. Turn off the television, light candles and try to keep all other necessary electricity at a minimum.
Use canvas bags in the grocery store or reuse paper bags from last time.
Save water by taking shorter showers and turning the water off while brushing teeth.
Water lawns and gardens in the morning when sunlight won’t evaporate it as quickly.