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The Chesapeake Bay Crisis: Why Should I Care?

Lucy Hummer

“Save the Bay” is a phrase that has become incredibly sensationalized over the last decade or so. But why? What does it really mean? DC is located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and most of you probably already knew that. However, the definition, scale and ultimate repercussions of this fact are likely unclear. This is a sad truth, but it does not need to be this way forever. We should all care about the bay, and we should all do our part to ~save~ it.

According to our trusty friend dictionary dot com, a watershed is essentially a drainage basin, one which collects precipitation to ultimately flow into a surface water outlet such as a river or bay. Decoded, this just means all of the land where gravity pulls water towards one body as opposed to another. The Chesapeake watershed, then, includes six states and the District, all water ultimately flowing into our great Bay. The ecosystems found within this geographical region are diverse, rich, and beautiful. They are also unfortunately at great risk. Humans have continued to exhaust the resources of the watershed and abuse the Bay to the point of nearly killing it.

The use of the word ‘killing’ is extreme and often used as an alarmist tactic, but in this case it is entirely true. Toxins in water lead to a process called eutrophication, which means the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases over time. Fish, aquatic plants and other creatures then have less air to breathe, and in some cases sections of waterbodies can be literally classified as “dead”.

This matters to you and me for a variety of reasons. Beyond the general, ‘we should all care about our Earth, nature is beautiful, blah blah blah, etc etc etc’, the Bay holds many utilitarian purposes. As the diverse regions of land use around the watershed continue to degrade due to human influence, this leads to many unplanned consequences on the local economy and beyond. Those who live directly on the Chesapeake itself are affected by actions of those hundreds of miles away. I am from central Pennsylvania, nowhere even close to the Bay’s coastline. However, if I decided that I wanted to apply pesticides to my mom’s front lawn back home, within no time those chemicals would end up in the Bay, along with all of my neighbors’, too.

Every decision we make every single day has an ecological consequence, whether it be positive or negative. As we all know, the Earth operates under a series of cycles. I understand that it is not easy to visualize our ultimate impacts on the Earth. How could me choosing not to lay commercial pesticides at my mom’s house and then slapping a Save The Bay bumper sticker on my Kia Soul do anything at all? I see it the same way as I see voting. Everybody gets the whole concept of ‘make sure you go out and vote in elections, even though it seems like your voice doesn’t really have an impact’. I don’t see how this concept is ANY different. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is a massive resource, one which is taken advantage of and degraded every single day. Especially as college students who live within the watershed, it is important to care. It should matter to you, and it does impact you. Not to be super dramatic, but the Bay is dying and she is beautiful and we must help her.

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Halloween is coming up; how do I make sure that mine is green?

Lucy Hummer

At large, Halloween is a very wasteful holiday. Fun, of course, but wasteful. Especially in college, this time of the year tends to be full of several costumes, hundreds of pieces of individually wrapped candies and an abundance of ~aluminum drink cans~. If you’re sustainably minded, events like this can be vaguely troubling. How can I enjoy celebrating this holiday which I love so much without having a massive jump in my product consumption? It does not always seem easy.

To SOME extent, I believe that it is necessary for us to forgive ourselves for creating waste. It’s unfair that we must limit ourselves from enjoying things that we like just because they maybe are not zero-waste or perfectly sustainable. To SOME extent.

Having the mindset of, “other people are out there treating the earth worse than me, if I don’t buy this item with excessive packaging someone will anyway, etc” does not mean that we are allowed to just absolve our guilt and move on. The context of Halloween is a great time to exemplify how we can enjoy October without being crazy un-sustainable.

In the spirit of “Halloweekend”, a lot of folks need several costumes to make it through the spooky season. (I know that I sound like an old person that is just talking about what I think college is like, just ignore it). It is both economically and environmentally sensible to try and make costumes out of items that you already own. This tends to be a minimum-effort, minimum-payoff type of costume, which isn’t always a bad thing. If you have to do a little bit of DIY or crafting, that also works! It takes a little bit more effort than ordering an outfit off of Amazon, but that’s more fun anyways, right?

Generally, if you decide you do have to purchase elements of your costumes, it is best not to buy new. There are many second-hand, vintage and thrift stores in and around DC which are full of hundreds of pieces. Suddenly, the trope that everything at a thrift store is old and dated is a good thing! You can make a head to toe 90s look with no effort and little money by spending just a few seconds in the clothing section. Plus, lots of these stores even have a specific Halloween section with second-hand costumes. I’ve been to at least three vintage stores in the DMV that had dozens of costumes for under $10. An event BETTER option would be trading your own old costumes with friends, because this is obviously free.

When it comes to candy, it is much trickier to reduce waste. That bulk bag of 500 candies from CVS looks tempting to me every time I see it. But if you’re just buying for yourself and your roommates, buying chocolate that doesn’t all come in individual wrappers is a better choice. If you need to go for small candies, choose ones that have recyclable packaging! There aren’t many, but Hershey’s kisses are one example.

If you decided to get a pumpkin for your dorm, get it from a local grower. This is a much better option than grabbing one from the grocery store, especially if you make a day of it and go out of DC to a pumpkin patch or orchard. If you go for a larger sized one, you can eat the pumpkin seeds and compost the rest.

At the end of the day, celebrating Halloween in college is very different than celebrating it in the suburbia that many of us come from. It is not hard to be more sustainable during holidays like this, it just takes a little bit of thought and some inspiration! And of course please recycle your ~aluminum drink cans~. Happy Halloween!

Green Org Spotlight: Green GW

Lucy Hummer

GreenGW is a community-minded organization that focuses on sustainable education and lifestyles. Each month, GreenGW has a different theme, each of which comes from the broad spectrum of interests in which being ‘green’ applies. This could mean anything from conservation to water to environmental justice. GreenGW does this for a variety of reasons. The primary goal is to make sure that they have something through the year that is of interest for everyone. Green meets almost every single week, so there is definitely opportunity to address an extremely broad scope of topics. Ultimately, throughout the academic year, GreenGW is able to provide a catalyst/resources/education/enthusiasm about being environmentally conscious on a variety of scales.

I personally find it very inspiring how many green organizations there are on campus. They all reach a different audience and have a different mission statement, but ultimately all have the same overarching desire to make GW students (and GW at large) a part of a more sustainable institution.

Green operates with two slogans. The first of which is “think global, act local”. This is fairly intuitive, and essentially means how can we as individuals have an impact on the world at large. Green straddles the divide between institutional change and lifestyle change and acknowledges that both are super important! Our second, and favored, slogan is “sustainability is sexy”. This one is obviously more light-hearted and casual, and we really feel like it encompasses the heart of the organization. At the end of the day, Green members just love to hang out with one another and talk about things that we are passionate about and inspire one another.

This semester (Fall 2018), we meet on Monday nights, usually at 7pm. However, Green often has special events and cosponsored programming that happens at different times! Upcoming in October, for example, we are working with other GW orgs, DC Fair Food and even someone from the UN Association on different cool things (check our Facebook page or sign up for our weekly email newsletter if you want to come join). Looking ahead, we have other exciting annual events in the works as well. A succulent sale around Valentine’s Day, Conscious College Road Tour, field trips and our Trashion Show are just a few. Next week is Fall Break, and Indigenous Peoples’ Day falls on our usual meeting day. That means our next meeting is October 15th! We’ll be having a general body meeting in District House 205 at 7, and we’ll be talking about climate change communication, etc. Come out if that’s up your alley!

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