April 22 is Earth Day, an underrated holiday. (Next to Arbor Day on Friday April 30. Go trees!). Maybe this says something about how we prioritize nature in our society. We arbitrarily picked a day to celebrate the Earth, but the next day we all go about our daily routines without giving a second thought to our impact on the environment.
At Brandeis, Earth Day has become Earth Week: a week-long endeavor encouraging us to examine sustainability practices and learn more about the climate crisis and what we can do to solve it. Earth Week at Brandeis has been full of exciting events, including “Environmental Justice Jeopardy,” multiple panels and outdoor exercise on the Wellness Day. Earth Week is not ending on Earth Day, though. Events run through the end of the weekend, with a Farmer’s Market on Sunday afternoon.
Brandeis has been taking steps to become more eco-friendly. Though dining halls are takeout-only during the pandemic, all the take out boxes and provided silverware are compostable, and there are various compost bins around campus. “Brandeis’ 2016 Climate Action Plan committed to a 15% reduction [of carbon emissions] by the end of the 2020 academic year, with 2015 as a baseline. We achieved a 14.5% reduction. However, this was only due to the steep decline in energy use as a result of the COVID-19-related reduction in campus population at the end of the 2020 academic year. Were it not for COVID-19, Brandeis would have achieved roughly a 12% carbon reduction,” reads the Office of Sustainability Climate Action Plan page. Some of the new procedures that contributed to this energy efficiency include LED lights and HVAC improvements, according to the Office of Sustainability.
But Brandeis could still be doing more. Again, the only reason Brandeis was close to meeting its sustainability goal was because of the pandemic, a time of reduced population on and near campus. One way the university could further decrease its carbon footprint is by decreasing the amount of meat options provided in the dining hall. They started Meatless Mondays, but those are only in one dining hall at a time. This could very easily be expanded to dinner and to both dining halls at once.
Brandeis prides itself in being a leader among college campuses, be it in COVID-19 vaccination efforts or going all compostable. However, that is only a small, first step that Brandeis has taken in order to be a truly sustainable campus. Waste at Brandeis is still ubiquitous, particularly in light of the pandemic, where we have seen a rise in the usage of single-use products once again. The testing sites just recently started recycling the plastic bags and papers inside them, after months of producing numerous bags of waste per day. Are the paper instructions in each testing kit really necessary? The plastic bags make sense for safety reasons; however, after a year of getting COVID-19 tests multiple times a week, students and staff surely already know what they are doing.
And, of course, Brandeis could divest from fossil fuels. Before the COVID-19 pandemic devoured our attention, much of the drama around campus centered on the university’s divestment from fossil fuels. After an action-packed year of rallies and tabling in 2019 and 2020, not much progress has been made.
Brandeis should consider making the health of our planet a priority all year round, not just on Earth Day (or Earth Week). We only have one planet. We need to treat her with more respect.
Editor’s Note: Editors Sabrina Chow and Shruthi Manjunath did not contribute to the writing or editing of this editorial.