Disclaimer: Kevin Pataroque is a staff member of the Office of Energy and Sustainability.
Earth Day, celebrated worldwide on April 22, is a global holiday dedicated to the protection of the environment. Earth Day marks a time to look back on our own progress. It’s a time to reflect on how we’ve grown and a time to envision the work that still needs to be done.
This year, however, has been a year defined by isolation. In our own homes, watching the number of casualties from the global pandemic rise, it’s impossible not to become disillusioned. Perhaps, looking back, humanity will remember this span of time as a year marked by diseases, natural disasters and governmental inadequacy.
Environmentalists from the Earth Day Initiative remind us, instead, of the resilience exhibited by humanity in our response to COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, scientists across the world collaborated to synthesize vaccines in the span of a year. Government officials planned one of the largest distributions in history: as of late April, over a quarter of Ohioans have been fully vaccinated. In light of the world’s own recovery from the pandemic, EarthDay.org, the nonprofit that created Earth Day in 1970, declared the theme of the 2021 Earth Day to be optimism.
“At the heart of Earth Day’s 2021 theme, Restore Our Earth, is optimism, a critically needed sentiment in a world ravaged by both climate change and the pandemic,” declared the Earth Day global organization.
As in previous years, students, employees and faculty at Case Western Reserve University will be joining in celebrating the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. Campus centers—such as the Office of Energy and Sustainability—as well as student organizations—such as the Physical Resource Center and the Student Sustainability Council—have been active in planning sustainability initiatives to improve the campus throughout the entire year.
The Sunrise Movement at CWRU, founded after the Sept. 20 climate strike in 2019, is an organization fighting against sociopolitical factors of climate change. This year, the chapter at CWRU has pushed USG to pass their resolution on fossil fuel divestment, and, during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, members took part in the protest.
“Among one of our demands is that all Americans should have access to a good-paying job with strong worker rights. This includes transitioning former fossil fuel workers to the renewable energy sector as the U.S. switches to 100% renewables,” said Chris Wu, one of the students on the executive board of Sunrise.
For Earth Day, the Sunrise Movement chapter at CWRU tabled at Tinkham Veale University Center and KSL Oval. At KSL Oval, members asked CWRU students to draw their vision of the Green New Deal.
Sunrise Movement is one of many student organizations involved with sustainable initiatives on campus. Olivia Paxson, a fourth-year civil engineering major, is one of the founders of the CWRU Physical Resource Center, a facility located next to Mitchell’s Ice Cream where students can donate and obtain free used resources, such as clothing and supplies. The project, founded in fall 2020, emerged from REScycle to provide students an alternative way to dispose of items they no longer needed.
“Through the PRC, hundreds of students have been able to take thousands of items such as a Hello Kitty toaster, mini fridges, scrubs, textbooks and more,” Paxson noted. “Students have appreciated having new alternatives for cold weather clothing and kitchenware as many of them are just starting to build their own kitchens.”
Paxson currently works as one of the 16 Sustainability Ambassadors working with the CWRU Office of Energy and Sustainability, the primary center for sustainable initiatives and action. Since its installment, the Office of Energy and Sustainability has helped develop energy initiatives, partnered with local organizations to implement compost at the university’s dining halls, organized educational events around campus and more. Most notably, the Office of Energy and Sustainability is responsible for overseeing the Climate Action Plan, CWRU’s vision statement and roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050.
This year, Stephanie Corbett, the current director of the Office of Energy and Sustainability, organized several campus-wide educational events oriented towards sustainable education. To accommodate remote and in-person students, the Office of Energy and Sustainability hosted both virtual and live events.
“The Office of Energy & Sustainability is organizing info on must-see sustainability-themed documentaries, providing links to virtual education events put on by many different organizations in April and May, and hosting a Earth Day scavenger hunt with prizes,” Corbett notes.
The celebration of Earth Day by CWRU organizations reasserts the importance of the national holiday. While Earth Day is dedicated to celebrating the progress of the past year, more importantly, it marks a time to set goals for the preservation of the environment we live in. In the wake of COVID-19, as society begins to reassess “normal life,” it’s critical to reassess our own actions towards the environment, and how we, as society, can continue to progress into a new era of environmentalism.