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Picture This! #1

Lucy Hummer

I thought it was only right to feature the above photo as the first image in this 'picture this' series. It is representative of a significant progression on campus, specifically towards sustainable landscaping here at GW. Landscaping, particularly at a university, is something which tends to have a flair for the traditional. Brightly colored plants, rich density and variety, and little flowers lining the edges of the quad. However, this is almost never the best choice when it comes to sustainability. While some flowers may be beautiful and nice to look at, they may come paired with a few problems. If they are not native to the region (meaning that they would not naturally grow here), the bees and other insects would likely be unable to pollinate them! They also may need to be replanted every season, which is wasteful. Additionally, they may not absorb a lot of rainwater during a storm, which is critical in a place like DC where there is a limited amount of permeable ground and a risk of flooding.

The great thing, though, is that GW has developed Sustainable Landscape Guidelines. They are, then, working towards making the campus not only beautiful but also more environmentally conscious. These signs around campus are indicative of progress, showing that the grounds team is working on meeting the guidelines. Keep your eye out for new landscapes all around GW. These signs mean sustainability is being integrated into our city campus. Interested in reading the Guidelines? You can find them here.

 

Sustainable Universities in the Modern World

Lucy Hummer

In mid-2017, President Trump announced that the United States was no longer going to be participating in the Paris Agreement, which was an accord focusing on climate change mitigation. This agreement, signed by 194 states and the European Union, is the first step taken by an international body to officially work towards combatting the changing climate and its effects on both individuals and the world at large. This goal is most commonly placed within the context of rising temperatures, with the established objective that the global temperature should not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

As the United States is of course one of the top tier contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, it is extremely heartbreaking that the President has chosen not to comply with this critically important agreement. There is so much at stake, it is hard to image that somebody, or a group of people, could comfortably make a decision such as this at such a critical point in environmental history. Regardless, we must more forward and adapt to the situation which we are presented. How can we do the best we can to adapt to and mitigate the effects of our changing climate, even when our own government is working against us?

A movement called We Are Still In (WASI) has begun among individual businesses, universities, cities and even states, with the intention that these groups can continue to comply with the Paris Agreement, regardless of Trump’s decision. There is an Opportunity Agenda which lists 10 high-impact ways which these groups can work to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, making it as easy as possible for these individual groups to work towards mitigating their effects on our environment. GW is a signatory to WASI, and is actively working towards achieving many of these 10 opportunities.

The number 1 opportunity listed is “doubling down on renewable energy”. As GW is 50% solar powered, I can brag and say that we are a shining example of a university which is taking great leaps towards our renewable future, at least within the context of our own energy use. We, of course, are not perfect, but are continuing to focus on opportunity number 1. (If you want to know more about the Capital Partners Solar Project, it’s super cool and there’s lot of information on the website). There are also goals targeted at terrestrial carbon sequestration (the fancy way of saying plant plants) and retrofitting buildings (the fancy way of saying improve energy efficiency). Again, GW is working hard towards both of these as well.

When we think about environmentalism, we tend to be either incredibly zoomed in or incredibly zoomed out. By this I mean we either think about ourselves as an individual or ourselves as a member of the world as a whole. Everything in between tends to be neglected, and we forget about all of the groups, cultures and societies that exist in between 1 person and 7 billion. A university is a perfect example of one of those groups that exists in this middle ground. Institutions such as GW have an amazing opportunity to make a huge impact on the world for the in between, in terms of advocacy, research, investments and anything else. Universities like GW will allow for movements such as WASI for the Paris Accord to push forwards, regardless of the state of the federal government.

The Groundwater Crisis: Why Should I Care?

Lucy Hummer

Groundwater is something that we often forget about. We can’t see it, we don’t really understand a use for it, and we generally “other” it from the water we drink or enjoy at the beach. However, as we all learned in 3rd grade with the water cycle, all water is the same. This means that the trillions of gallons that are stored deep under the surface of the earth in between sand and rock can and will become the water which we drink much quicker than we may think.

So what is groundwater? While it may not be the most glamorous topic, we can go ahead and categorize fresh water into three sections for ease of this illustration. This will give us: drinking water, surface water and ground water. We can say that drinking water is all of the industrially stored water, whether that be in a pipe that has been clarified and prepared to enter your tap, or in a $5 plastic bottle in the CVS refrigerator. Surface water is what immediately comes to mind when you think of fresh water, meaning our lakes, streams and rivers. Ground water, then, is everything else. Massive deposits of water are found directly under our feet, called aquifers, traveling from the clouds deep down below the water table.

Why does this matter to you? Our groundwater sources are at risk. Tens of BILLIONS of gallons of groundwater are extracted from the earth each day in the United States alone, and this water is being used much more rapidly than it is being recharged. While we continue to treat this water as an inexhaustible resource, it takes years for an aquifer to refill just a few inches. That 3rd grade water cycle lesson drilled into our minds that water is a renewable resource, but this is not entirely true. Our view of the seemingly unending supply of safe and clean water must shift to seeing it instead as a privilege, as this may not always be the case.

Industries, particularly the cattle industry and agro-business in the southwest United States, are using this groundwater alarmingly rapidly. If the aquifers run dry, it will take centuries for them to recharge. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that this groundwater crisis, partnered of course will the umbrella issue of climate change, is the largest and most pressing environmental issue facing the world today. Some towns, in the United States and internationally, are already running completely dry. So why is nobody talking about it? Is it because at large ‘groundwater’ sounds so boring?

While it is of course the best way to make environmentalism engaging and accessible to the largest amount of people, we must de-glamorize the concept of eco-advocacy. Issues like the groundwater crisis are happening NOW and we must do what we can to make ourselves care, regardless of how mundane they seem in concept.

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