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Going green on campus and beyond

How students can get involved

Erin Maes and Eric Timlin protested at the EPA regional headquarters in Denver on Sept. 6.
Photo: John Mazzetta · The Sentry

The threat of climate change is an ever-present thought in the minds of many young people today.  Current world reports don’t paint an optimistic picture either: the Amazon rainforest burns in large swaths, millions of tons of arctic ice are lost in days, and global temperatures hit new record highs each year. Local outlooks aren’t much better with the American Lung Association placing Denver’s air quality at 12th-worst out of 228 municipalities in the 2019 “State of the Air” report.

On a more optimistic note, Denver has no shortage of ways to get involved in fighting climate change. Organizations located on campus and around Denver have already taken action.

The Auraria Sustainable Campus Program (ASCP) has been making notable eco-friendly improvements. Some of the program’s major projects include the installation of LED bulbs in 463 street lights, the introduction of campus-wide composting, and the construction of a 2,106-panel solar grid on top of the Auraria Library, which will prevent an estimated 1.2 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year. 

Chris Herr, a sustainability officer with the ASCP, gave promising insight on campus sustainability. “We already have a waste diversion rate of 18 percent, and we’re trying to get that up to 35 percent by 2022 with further recycling and the addition of compost. Also, our 2018 study in partnership with Metro State’s Earth and Atmospheric Science department found that two-thirds of students are already using alternative transportation,” Herr said. 

For the ASCP, student education and outreach are intrinsic to improving these statistics. To this end, the ASCP website provides a plethora of resources, including locations of E-waste, recycle, and compost stations, and links to informational websites.

For students looking to get involved in environmental organizations on campus, the Auraria Sustainable Campus Program currently offers the Eco-Rep volunteer program. Students interested in volunteering can expect a hands-on experience maintaining the Auraria Community Garden and assisting with waste bin education.

The Sustainable Campus Program Advisory Committee (SCPAC) presents a different kind of opportunity. The committee is comprised of two representatives elected from each of the Auraria campus schools and one member from the Student Advisory Committee to the Auraria Board (SACAB) who serves as chair. These seven voting members ensure that students and staff have a voice in the delegation of funds from the Sustainable Campus Program Fee.

Within the broader scope of Denver, hope for substantial action on environmental policy may lie with organizations like Environment Colorado. This statewide, citizen-based, environmental advocacy nonprofit works to bring awareness to environmental issues. Environment Colorado also provides internships and employment opportunities to students passionate about environmental stewardship. 

On Sept. 6, members of Environment Colorado attended a highly anticipated bill hearing at the regional EPA headquarters in downtown Denver. The bill, concerning whether Denver should be reclassified as a “serious” violator of federal air quality standards, has returned to the EPA docket after missing the initial decision deadline of July 2018.

The drawn-out nature of the bill was cause for public backlash at the hearing. Representatives from the oil and gas industry sought further delay, citing concern for the new permits industrial polluters would have to attain.

Eric Timlin, a campaign organizer with Environment Colorado, led a group of professors and students in petitioning outside the regional EPA headquarters, where they collected signatures and delivered fervent testimonies inside. Attendees from the Auraria campus included Erin Maes, a film and philosophy student in her final year at CU Denver, and Kirsten Christensen, a Geography and Environmental Science professor. 

Maes gave her opinion on the matter, stating, “It’s really important that students get involved. Our generation is really moving forward progressively, and we can make a lot of changes for future generations.”

Following the hearing, Timlin provided a more in-depth explanation on his campaign goals and further emphasized the importance of getting involved.

“We need students involved in getting our elected officials, specifically Cory Gardener, to take substantial climate policy.,” Timlin said. “That type of support already exists in the state at over 70 percent, but what we need to do and what young people need to do is demonstrate that support.”

Expect to see more of Environment Colorado this year as campaigns like Timlin’s bring opportunities for student involvement and activism.

Though individual contributions toward the environmental effort might seem less significant than the work of groups like Environment Colorado, making small changes in daily habits can always have a positive impact on the future of the environment.

Alternative transportation, such as riding a bicycle or taking the light rail/bus to and from campus, is a good place to start. 

Responsible recycling is an important practice that is often overlooked. Keep in mind that not all plastics are recycled easily, and some cannot be recycled. Visit the ASCP website for a full waste-sorting list. 

Avoid any single-use dishware, silverware, and even those red solo cups, or hand wash and reuse them if necessary.

At home, switch to LED bulbs, unplug unused appliances, and wash clothes in cold water. According to The Worldwatch Institute, 85 percent  of energy used to machine wash clothes goes to heating the water. Install low flow shower heads and take shorter showers as well.

Compost whenever possible; a less than ideal report published in 2018 by the ASCP found that 53 percent of surveyed campus waste bin material was compostable. 

Bring reusable bags to the grocery store and recycle plastic bags. Both Target and Walmart typically have plastic grocery bag recycling bins.

Be conscious of food waste and which foods require more water to produce as well. Most meat, particularly beef, has a heavy water footprint, using approximately 4,068 gallons of water per kilogram of beef, according to the Water Footprint Network. Cutting meat consumption for a day or two out of each week can further minimize personal impact on the environment. 

Reduce paper consumption in class by taking notes on a laptop, and print papers double-sided whenever possible.

Shop for secondhand items; anything from renting used textbooks to buying clothes at a thrift store can help reduce waste going to landfill and save money as a bonus. Don’t forget to donate used clothes and furniture to Goodwill.

Find tips like these and more via the ASCP website, through their informational “Did You Know” fliers, and through their social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram at aurariascp, and Twitter @AurariaSCP. 

The threat of climate change can feel overwhelming, but by getting involved and changing personal habits, students can take a leading role in the movement against climate change.

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