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This past Monday, University students, faculty and staff demonstrated their growing concern for environmental issues by turning out an enthusiastic crowd for Earth Day 2013. The Earth Day events, organized by Paul Rosier of the department of history, marked the 43rd annual celebration of Earth Day. Created to raise awareness of environmental issues, Earth Day has become a venue where scholars and activists around the world can join in discussion and speak their message of environmental concern to the public.

 

The University’s Earth Day celebration kicked off bright and early with a panel discussion on hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale.

 

Hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking” as it is called within the field—is highly relevant to the current discussion of environmental issues at the University, not only because of its importance for such varied fields as energy production, wildlife conservation and public health, but also because much of the drilling takes place in the state of Pennsylvania.

 

Nathaniel Weston of the department of geography and the environment organized the event and introduced each of the speakers. Panelists were selected from a wide range of relevant fields, each offering a unique perspective on this far-reaching topic of public debate.

 

University professor Steven Goldsmith of the department of geography and the environment and Jerry Mead of the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University discussed the effects of the technology on watersheds and ecosystems surrounding natural gas wells. Their presentations and research outlined a technology that is cleaner and more efficient than coal but still creates serious problems in the environment.

 

School of Nursing professor Ruth McDermott-Levy presented on the risks hydraulic fracturing poses to the public health. She discussed both water and air quality concerns and cited the support of various medical-field associations in calling for a moratorium on the building of new natural gas wells.

 

Joe Nye, program director of Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Action initiative, presented on the political intricacies of the environmental issue.

 

“The political impacts are pretty clear,” said Nye, offering evidence of corrupt dealings and bureaucratic manipulation by the oil and gas industries at the municipal and state government levels.

 

Susan Phillips, a reporter for National Public Radio, served as the discussion’s final panelist. She shared her stories of energy reporting with the audience, commenting on the negative effects hydraulic fracturing wells have had on residents of the surrounding areas.

 

The discussion ended with a lively question-and-answer session in which the issue’s political volatility came to light. The panel drew students and scholars as well as activists, all displaying their passion about this current topic in the environmental world.

 

At lunchtime, students, faculty and staff could be seen packing into Connelly Center for the annual Earth Day sustainability fair and farmer’s market. The events outside were sponsored by Dining Services and consisted of several tables and vendors related to sustainable farming and recycling.

 

The Dining Services free samples were a favorite, drawing a long line of hungry undergraduates. Lunch featured entrees created by the 2013 Veggie Mania winners,  including Sandra Green and Robert Crescenzi’s spaghetti squash primavera.

 

Also on the menu were organic chicken products and free samples of Peet’s coffee. Students looking to shop could choose from a wide variety of farmer’s market items, including bread, fresh produce and cream cheese. Proceeds went to Greenheart’s Tsinelas of Hope initiative.

 

A number of vendors were on sight advertising environmentally friendly products, including Tower Garden vertical growing systems and Cool Carpet sustainably-made carpets. 

 

In addition, representatives from Hillside Farm shared information about their Community Supported Agriculture program. Next to them, Coca-Cola representatives presented displays about the recycling process of a plastic Coke bottle.

 

Inside Connelly Center, students from the Introduction to Environmental Science course presented the results of their semester-long research projects. The projects focused on environmental concerns close to home for the University, featuring topics such as the greenhouse gas reduction achieved by an off-campus shuttle and the environmental impact of the Kennedy Oval construction.

 

Student advocacy groups also came out for the event, setting up table presentations about their on-campus work. Representatives from the U.S. Green Building Council Student Chapter, Villanova Environmental Group, Villanovans In Defense of Animals and the President’s Environmental Sustainability Committee were eager to talk with their peers about their environmental goals.

 

After the sustainability fair wrapped up in mid-afternoon, preparations began for the annual Earth Day keynote address in the Connelly Cinema. This year’s speaker, Katherine Gajewski, is director of sustainability for the city of Philadelphia.

 

Gajewski discussed her role in implementing the Greenworks Philadelphia initiative to improve the city’s environmental sustainability. Greenworks Philadelphia, announced by Mayor Michael Nutter in 2009, focuses on five key areas: energy, environment, equity, economy and engagement.

 

According to Gajewski, one of the biggest challenges for urban sustainability is its relative newness as a municipal priority. She referred to her colleagues in other cities as the “first generation” of government representatives for sustainability and spoke about the “renaissance of cities” taking place throughout the United States.

 

Gajewski also addressed student concerns, commenting on the prospects for careers in sustainability as the University’s environmentally active student body graduates and moves on to the work force.

 

Earth Day 2013 concluded on a relaxing note with a documentary screening hosted by the University Environmental Group. The award-winning series “Planet Earth” was shown in John Barry Hall, an appropriate finish to a day of discussion and education.

 

Once again, University students, faculty and staff displayed their commitment to the growing concerns of environmentalism by participating wholeheartedly in the events of the day. Thanks to the efforts of the 2013 Earth Day Committee, students had the opportunity to hear from a diverse range of speakers and activists. The enthusiasm of the entire University community contributed to making the 2013 Earth Day celebration a well-attended success.

 

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