Environmental apathy

October 7, 2015 by Peter Lugthart

Last winter, the hot water boiler in the basement of Williams Hall stopped working. Multiple entrymates and fellow Willy residents complained about how they had tried running the shower for 10 whole minutes before finally giving up and walking to Sage Hall to take a shower. I waited for it to be fixed for most of a day, then finally caved in and took an ice-cold shower; then I took another one the next morning. Finally, almost two days later, the hot water came back on. Later, an entrymate told me that he had called facilities on the second day, and they told him that they had no idea there was a problem. Everyone in Willy had been so sure that someone else would call that they walked through the snow to another dorm or took cold showers before they tried to do something to fix the problem.

I’ve had an identical conversation about the tree that was cut down in science quad half a dozen times: “It’s too bad it fell. The quad just isn’t the same without it. It’s about time to put a new one in.” But the planting of a new tree is spoken about as if it were a matter of fate, something beyond the control of mere students. No one thinks, “I could find out whether a new tree could be planted. I could contact campus authorities and ask that it happen soon.” That’s not the only tree that’s been missed recently: I have heard gripes about the trees between Morgan and Route 2, the row of trees on the sidewalk from Dodd to Sawyer and, most recently, the trees in the large planters that used to be in front of Old Sawyer. These trees were all removed for construction reasons, such as changing sidewalks and installing lampposts, but there’s still space to replant in almost the same locations. Even if the trees have no quantifiable benefit, the fact that so many people complain about their disappearance means that they probably care on some level.

There’s Eco Cafe. It’s a frequent joke to point out that it’s no more ecologically friendly than any other dining halls, or even less so, given that it offers bottled water, packaged food and no composting. But it’s just a joke. It’s never followed by the decision to, for example, send an email to dining services asking about offering composting. Not that that would necessarily solve the issue, but it might, and there’s no way of knowing otherwise.

These anecdotes aren’t all environmental issues, or even necessarily substantial issues. However, they do highlight a more widespread attitude, a lack of willingness to take initiative and call awareness to issues on campus. We let things fester until someone else takes care of it. But what happens when that someone else doesn’t come? This isn’t necessarily a specific indictment of students at the College, since this is a phenomenon that happens worldwide with issues big and small. I myself am guilty of the same. Instead, this should be a call for mindfulness, to pay notice to the things that bother you as you go about your day – things that are within your ability to fix.

I’m usually just as guilty of this attitude as anyone else, with one exception. You might remember that the water fountain in the lower Lasell weight room used to run continuously. I ignored it for months – it wasn’t really inconvenient for me, just wasting water. Surely a janitor would notice it and fix it, or Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Rob Livingstone would point it out to someone from Facilities. But I finally remembered it one day at my computer and submitted a Facilities Web Request (Google it – anyone can do this, for things like drafty windows, running toilets or clogged sinks). A few weeks later, it was fixed, though it’s still not perfect. It was incredibly satisfying to go to take a drink one day and notice that it actually turned off.

This wasn’t a big deal. It took five minutes; a lot of environmental annoyances and problems on campus will take much more time. But showing dissatisfaction with the status quo isn’t a waste of time or energy. I’m not trying to turn everyone into perpetually dissatisfied complainers. Rather, taking the initiative to fix things that are within your power is personally rewarding and potentially beneficial to all. Case in point: as President Falk mentioned in one of his recent all-campus emails, it was student activism that inspired the new and ambitious sustainability initiatives described in the email, and hopefully student activism will help hold the College to these commitments. Next time something at the College bothers you, remember that, and don’t just complain. Do something.

Peter Lugthart ’18 is from Rocky Face, Ga. He lives in Gladden.

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