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You’ve Been Saving Water and You Didn’t Even Know It

in Campus Journal by

Throughout this school year, you probably saved around 1,122 gallons of water. And chances are you, you didn’t even realize it.

This past summer, I worked on behalf of the Office of Sustainability and the engineering department to research ways that resources, particularly water, could be conserved on campus. After preliminary investigations into water uses on campus such as irrigation, food services, and laundry, I found a large potential for feasibly saving water in shower water usage.

In the spring of 2016, a Green Fund proposal by Shane Loeffler ’16 jump-started a trial run of low-flow showerheads in the field house. After winter break, several low-flow showerheads were installed in the men’s and women’s locker rooms to gage student response. The main concern with the project was student complaints against the reduced flow. The relatively quiet response paved the way for a broad scale implementation of low-flow showerheads in the rest of the athletic facilities and in dorms throughout campus.

Before recommending the relatively small, but nonetheless significant, investment in purchasing low-flow showerheads, I wanted to confirm that low-flow showerheads could indeed save water. There was a concern that lower water pressure would cause students to take longer showers, thus rendering the low-flow showerheads ineffective at actually saving water.

If you lived in Willets over the summer, this might sound familiar to you. I attempted to quietly change half of the showerheads in Willets (as discretely as a girl in a dress with a wrench can get in the men’s showers of Willets). The new 1.5 gallon per minute (gpm) showerheads replaced old 2.5 gpm showerheads, therefore ideally saving 1 gallon of water per minute of shower use.

To test how much water was actually being saved, I first manually measured the flow rates of 1.5 and 2.5 gpm showerheads throughout campus (it turned out that 2.5 gpm labeled showerheads actually delivered an average of 2.22 gpm and 1.5 gpm labeled showerheads delivered an average of 1.32 gpm).

I also asked Willets residents to time their showers over the course of a week in July and record the times on slips of paper. Despite a few minor setbacks (someone stole my homemade data collection shoe box, along with the data, on Day 5 in Willets 2nd North), I was able to collect 111 shower times and determine that there was not a significant difference between students’ average shower times of the two types of showerheads. Therefore, I concluded that the low-flow showerheads could indeed save water.

I spent the next few weeks installing over 200 low-flow showerheads in dorms across campus. I ran into some fairly legitimate challenges to being able to install low-flow showerheads in all showers on campus, like construction in ML, a different showerhead type for handicapped showers, as well as some less impressive obstacles. Despite breaking a sweat, I simply could not get off a handful of the 2.5 gpm showerheads in Mertz and Worth – I like to blame the wrench for that one. Also, I had thought that no one was living in some of the smaller dorms over the summer, but an awkward encounter with a German exchange student in Woolman proved me wrong and prevented me from installing low-flow showerheads in some of the smaller dorms in use over the summer.

With over 200 out of the total 318 showerheads in Swarthmore’s dorms  replaced with lower flow showerheads, as well as all of the showerheads in the field house and Ware Pool locker rooms, chances are, you’ve cut down on your shower water usage without even realizing it.

Much more can be done, though, to promote Swarthmore’s conservation of water. I chose to save shower water through low-flow showerheads because it involved no behavior change on the part of the student. However, behavior change could further save water. I found that the average shower time for Willets residents was 7 minutes and 27 seconds. I understand that the stress of Swat can make standing under a hot shower seem like a daily necessity, but quickening the pace of a shower or reducing the time allowed for the water to warm up can lead to substantial water savings.

There is also room for energy conservation by reducing the temperature of showers. Last year, more energy went to heating showers in Willets than actually heating the dorm. Not only would taking shorter showers work to save energy, but sacrificing a few degrees can further save resources.

Being aware of the environmental footprint of your shower is the first step in working to conserve resources. Even though you’ve been saving water without even realizing it, a shorter shower or reduced temperature can further contribute to the conservation of water and energy that you have already unknowingly been contributing to. It is important for Swarthmore’s campus and students to take responsibility in a global effort to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Internal carbon charge seeks external change

in Around Campus/News by

This year, the college instituted an internal carbon charge in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and eventually become emission neutral. The carbon charge is imposed on the college by itself, and which is intrinsically difficult to implement. The idea of carbon pricing is a policy idea commonly for mitigating carbon emissions on a national scale, but Swarthmore and other institutions have implemented a version of carbon prices on themselves.

The college is also a leader in the push for a nation-wide tax on carbon, President Valerie Smith signed the Letter on Carbon Action, which was a letter sent by colleges and universities to the Trump administration encouraging him to honor the Paris Climate Agreement, make sure policies are based on the scientific and technical facts, and invest in a low-carbon economy. The college also endorses a nationwide carbon tax and has advertised their advocacy heavily on the college’s official social media. The carbon charge, as well as the advocacy for the national carbon pricing, is an attempt by the college to help combat climate change and is the primary way that Swarthmore is trying to mitigate climate change.

Swarthmore’s carbon charge was modeled after Yale and Princeton’s internal carbon charges, and a goal of the charge is to serve as a model and help advance the case both for internal charges at other institutions as well as for nationwide carbon pricing. Swarthmore’s internal carbon works by raising money for a carbon fund which will be used for sustainability projects.

The charge consists of three parts: a fee levied on department budgets, a shadow price on energy for future projects, and the carbon fund. The fee charge placed on department budget funds the carbon fund. The fee is a flat tax on departments, and the shadow price is an added fee on energy that makes the cost of energy higher to the college than it would be without the self-impose shadow price.

Climate Action Senior Fellow Nathan Graf believes that the carbon charge has been successful in its first year of operation.

I think the Carbon Charge program has been fantastically successful, in particular as a platform for education and engagement on carbon pricing solutions. The baseline levy for the Carbon Charge is currently 1.25 percent of department and office budgets, exclusive of salaries and benefits, which totals about $300,000. For next year’s charge, several departments stepped up and voluntarily contributed an additional $40,000 to the Carbon Charge. I think that level of generosity reflects positively on the program and speaks to the support it has in the campus community,” he said.

Graf also explained what the money raised by the Carbon Charge will be used for.

“The Ecosphere Executive Committee granted final approval for a Green Revolving Fund a few weeks ago. The GRF will use the revenues for the carbon charge on projects that will reduce our emissions and save the college money in the long run. We’re working with Facilities to use much of the first year’s revenue to fund LED lighting upgrades on campus,” he said.

The charge was developed by members of the Swarthmore community including faculty, alumni, and members of the administration. Professor of Economics Stephen Golub highlighted the importance of private institutions like the college instituting changes in light of the lack of climate.

“The carbon charge was the result of the concern about sustainability and climate change and so on, highlighted by the divestment movement, again with discussions we had within the department, we thought the college should do something … It was an attempt to see if we could come up with something we could do concretely about climate change at this college and link up with the national movement to price carbon, that national and international movement, which to economists is the most promising thing you can do,” he said.

Golub also explained the charge in economic terms.

“The idea is that greenhouse gasses and climate change are …  a negative externality [a bad effect on people not involved in a particular purchase], and you can’t leave that to the private market. You have to either regulate it, or put a price on it. There are a number of advantages to pricing over regulation, and we need to do this. This needs to be done on a national and global scale, voluntary efforts aren’t enough. In the absence of the federal government doing anything, individual institutions can step up to the plate,” he said.

The structure of the Carbon Charge is a flat tax on departments, meaning that the charge is not reflective of their actual carbon usage, which would not create an incentive for members of the department to change their carbon usage.

[Carbon within departments] is very difficult to price. How would [the] economics department reduce its carbon footprint? Well, we could turn the lights off, we could shut off our computers, we could make sure our windows are closed, and so on, but there’s no way at present to measure or price that because the economics department is part of Kohlberg hall, and even in Kohlberg, even if we were to do this together with the other departments, there is no way to monitor that very easily in Kohlberg at present. It’s very, very difficult. For Yale, it is a bit easier because they have different schools, and they can monitor that for different institution within Yale,” he said.

Golub also praised the work that has been done by the college and stressed that the carbon charge was part of a larger movement.

“This is the first year, and my take on it [is that] I think amazing progress was made in one year considering the difficulty of this. Again, it’s kind of a crazy thing for places to tax themselves, the government should be taxing us. It’s awkward to implement, considering the difficulties of this, [but] we’ve done a great job […] Any one person or institution can only do so much, but there are two reasons that it matters a whole lot. First of all, everyone should do their part. We’re doing our part, but maybe more important is the signal that it sends out there to the world: that we care; we are a prestigious place, even if small; and that what we can do makes a difference, and if others see that we’re doing this, [then] we’re part of a movement,” he said.

The white plastic coffee lids go in the trash, people!

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

It all began with the purchasing of the green bins. Three were given to Sci, the busiest of all buildings. Two to Kohlberg and two to Scheuer, great gathering places for students and faculty alike. One to McCabe, a place of quiet desperation, and one to Shane Lounge, crossroads of the campus. And one (or so) went to each of the dorms, where the students above all else desired compost.

And of those who were to come to know these compost bins, in their dreams as in their waking hours! I was one of seven. Thrice weekly we would ride out in pairs, in a golf cart named Bertie, through snow and through rain, on paths and on grass. Few were the pedestrians who did not soon learn to heed the cowbell’s warning! We rode with wind and lightning. How nimbly the refuse of thousands was deposited into half a dozen receptacles, where it awaited a valkyrie named Chris to carry it to its Valhalla, or place of glory! We washed bins as they told us to. When they asked us to wear gloves, some of us balked.

The highest good is like compost. This appears in its benefiting all things, and in occupying, without striving, the low place which the rest avoid. But it is better to attempt to carry a compost bin when full than to leave it unfilled.

Often the composter finds grace at the bottom of a bin. This you may little believe, who hide your waste in bins and hide yourselves. In a moment the gauze of consumption’s paradigm is torn away; we are lain bare to confront the arrogant wolfish thought, and to share the earth’s slow breath. Without desire we find the deep mystery.

The next time you find yourself composting, see if you can find yourself, composting. When you make your oblation, stay near the bin awhile, and absorb the fragrance. Be still. See what you can pick out from this odorous mixture of what others have left. Feel the weight of the bin. If you are courageous, pick through some of the compost and so explore the habits of others. Maybe pause for a second and listen to your surroundings. Above all, observe yourself at this moment, your emotions and responses, your senses and thoughts.

What do I mean when I speak of grace? I found grace in a pastrami sandwich. There are few now living to whom I dare speak of these thoughts.

The world is changed. I feel it in the compost, I smell it in the compost. My heart bursts; the old days are dying and the compost system will soon be transformed on campus. The system devours and begets itself anew. Next year there will be no riding out. We lose our name, our cart, and our glory. Yet for the great balance we give up these things. When the work is done we withdraw into obscurity. The next day of compost is near, and none shall avoid its sweetness, not those in Lang, not those in Trotter, nor those betwixt. Vain shall be those who compost white plastic lids.
And for those now living, and for those reading after: multiples of three, let them be. Our recycling facility does not accept polyvinyl chloride (#3) and polystyrene (#6), as they are difficult to process; these must go in the bins for incinerator waste. And don’t even think of composting styrofoam.

Everything in its place. The place of food stuffs is in the compost, and the place of (most) clean plastics is in the recycling. Separate these two essences, and if possible rinse the plastic before recycling.

Give straws a pause. Even if they’re green, they are neither compostable nor recyclable. A straw can break the camel’s back and cause a recycling load to be rejected.

If tea is a staple of your diet, please remove the staples from tea bags before composting them. Lastly, what I say three times is true. WHITE PLASTIC COFFEE LIDS MUST GO IN THE TRASH, as they are #6 plastics.

Your fellow students and EVS technicians sort through your waste every day. A stitch in time saves us nine. And we’re not perfect! If you help us to prevent contamination, recycling loads are less likely to be rejected from recycling plants and sent to landfills or incinerators, and metals and plastics are less likely to end up in the soil where our food is grown.

Conversations on a Just Sustainable World

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

This past Friday, the second annual “Sustainable Development in Latin America & the Caribbean Conference” was held at Yale University. Other than being able to get off campus for an extended amount of time, I was excited to engage in conversations on how climate change can be addressed in these areas. Given that most of my extended family resides in Mexico, I wanted to hear how sustainability was being implemented to negate issues like pollution, waste, water quality, etc. Is the solution to regulate emissions? More renewable energy? Carbon pricing? Windmills?

Walking out of the conference, I was reminded that in order to create a truly sustainable world, we need to do more than just recycle and talk about polar bears.

Our keynote speaker was Ambassador Juan Jose Gomez Camacho, the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations. In his remarks, he spoke on the vast environmental issues that plague Mexico. He mentioned how there are foreign owned factories, called maquiladoras, discharging harmful chemicals to the surrounding communities, deforestation is destroying natural habitats and forests, and that Mexico City has gotten to the point where the air pollution has become physically visible.

Gomez made an important point on how these environmental issues are connected to many other social issues in Mexico. The discharge of chemicals contributes to poor labor and living conditions for working class citizens, deforestation has destroyed the homes of indigenous groups, and how air pollution has affected the health of children and families being raised in the city. He spoke on how the development of sustainability in Mexico must address these other social issues. Otherwise, it isn’t sustainable development.

So, how can we begin explicitly integrating social issues with sustainability? One manner that can be done is to look at how this conference was structured to facilitate conversations that touched on multiple issues.The organizers of this panel, in my opinion, did an amazing job of gathering a diverse group of environmental leaders to speak on sustainable development.

By environmental leaders, I do not mean they invited Al Gore or Bill Nye. And by diverse, I do not mean they invited a variety of folks from “Environmental Careers.” There was no one from the EPA, no one from the Sierra Club, and not a single scientist. In fact, only two of the fifteen speakers had the words “climate change” or “sustainable” in their job titles.

Instead, these environmental leaders came from various countries, backgrounds, and professions. To showcase what kind of professions; allow me to list off a few of the panelists and their respective titles: Ms. Renata Segura is the Associate Director of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum of the Social Science Research Council. Mr. Ronald Jackson is the Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency CDEMA. And Ms. Judith Morrison is the Senior Advisor for the Gender and Diversity Division GDI for the Inter-American Development Bank.

At first it may be odd to think how this group of people and their work can relate to sustainable development in Latin America & the Caribbean. On the contrary, they have everything to do with sustainability. They, as well as all of us, should be viewed as environmental leaders.

The panelists were amazing in describing the connections between sustainability and their lives. Looking at my notes; the topics discussed ranged from zero waste, violence in Colombia, gender equality, impact on drugs, multidimensional poverty, and many more. One of my favorite examples came from Jackson on how disaster management should be viewed as addressing climate change—How, when it comes to climate justice, the work of disaster management organizations is crucial for sustainable development.

What was remarkable was how organic and natural these conversations were. The panelists naturally transitioned from topic to topic without forcing the direction. And it shouldn’t be forced. Sustainability is truly connected with everything.

This idea was highlighted by our closing keynote speaker, Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier, the Chief of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. She gave a presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals that were created by the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals that was born out of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The SDG’s range from environmental goals like “Affordable and Clean Energy,” economic goals like “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” to social goals like “Gender Equality.” Each of these 17 goals has targets that need to be reached in order to achieve the goal. For example, a target for the “Clean Water and Sanitation” goal is: “by 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.”

Carpentier spoke at one point about a project lead by David Le Blanc, the Senior Sustainable Development Officer in the Division for Sustainable Development. Le Blanc and his team examined the SDG’s to create a network that highlights how each of the goals and their respective targets are connected to one another. They went and coded all of the goals and targets to find connections amongst them. Their findings showcased that there is a network that connects all the SDGs and their respective targets. In fact, Carpentier highlighted that, if you happen to work on at least three different SDG’s, (it does not matter which three), then you are working on all of them.

I find it a beautiful thought that the work we all do is connected. That somehow, we are all working towards one goal: creating a better world. While I may not label myself to be an environmentalist, I am happy to think that my future role as a teacher can contribute towards climate justice.

With all this being said, I do believe that we need to recycle! And I love polar bears! But I don’t believe that the conversation of sustainability has to end there. We are in an amazing position to recognize this expansion, and continue to expand what sustainability means. It means that sustainability has to work for all. That everyone needs to be included in the conversation on sustainable development, especially those who are being most affected by climate change. That barriers to participate in these conversation must be deconstructed. That those conversation are held in spaces where everyone is able to contribute their voice. That we emphasize connections and work in solidarity with one another.

There is a lot more that needs to be done to advance sustainability to just sustainabilities. Obviously, one conference and one article published for college students is not enough. But I do see ourselves in a special place and time to join together to work towards a shared goal, vision, and dream.

Divestment necessary as a model of sustainability

in Letter to the Editor/Opinions by

We are writing in response to the article that appeared in the Phoenix on December 1st, 2016 entitled “Sustainability Office’s Work Continues, Consultants to be hired; Future of the Carbon Tax Unclear.”
We are both Swarthmore class of 1965. We are concerned about the global future, and the college that we love and we desperately need to make it more sustainable. We have asked—no, pleaded with—the Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels and we have put our money where our mouths are by making significant contributions to the President’s Climate Commitment Fund. We are happy that the PCCF helped send a Swarthmore delegation to Marrakech for the important Conference of the Parties 22 meeting this past November.

We were around Swarthmore in early October and happy to visit our alma mater. We were delighted to find the campus as beautiful as we had remembered it. On a somewhat chilly morning we explored the Sproul Observatory building looking for the office of the College Bulletin, which is the magazine through which the College stays in touch with alumni. We found the office, but were dismayed to also find an air conditioner cooling an area next to the Bulletin’s office. The problem was not necessarily the air conditioner, but the fact that the school was running the air conditioner on an already cold day.
From this experience and the way that the college is currently handling the conflict with divestment, there is much to be gained by the work of the Sustainability Office and the work of the President’s Office as a whole. The effect on people, especially students, is even greater than the effect that it has had by making the campus greener.

We are proud that Swarthmore will be educating a group of leaders in sustainability! However, we also need to ensure that Swarthmore is taking all the steps it can to set an example for leaders in sustainability, starting with divestment.

Gail (Sise) Grossman and Richard Grossman, Swarthmore ‘65

Sustainability isn’t just activism

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

We always hear about what Mountain Justice is up to because their efforts are broadcasted to the entire campus community. But, believe it or not, Mountain Justice is not the only sustainability-minded group on campus. There is, in fact, an entire group of a dozen clubs and organizations that make up a community called Ecosphere. This community is a collective coalition focused on the environment and sustainability in one way or another. For a full list of the groups in Ecosphere, you can read our January newsletter at https://spark.adobe.com/page/x3chSHju6Frgo. There are groups focused on sustainable food and energy, such as the Good Food Project, some that focus on exploring the outdoors, such as the Outing Club, others that focus on animal care, such as Animal Allies, and groups that focus on the political side of sustainability, such as Earthlust. So, obviously, there are many other student-run organizations besides Mountain Justice on campus that care about the environment and are working towards impacting campus sustainability.

With regards to campus sustainability, there is also a significant movement toward sustainability supported by the College’s Office of Sustainability. For example, the Green Advisors program recently became a paid position within residence halls. Besides taking care of residential compost, each Green Advisor is responsible for their own campus sustainability project, from plastic cup recycling to waste bin standardization to highlighting the diverse species in the Crum. Meanwhile, the Presidential Sustainability Research Fellowship (PSRF) just finished applications for its second year. Recipients of PSRF take on even bigger projects as a part of a year long research program on topics such as Crum Woods stewardship, establishing a Green Revolving Fund, and waste and energy reduction. The GA and PSRF programs are exciting because they are institutionalized. This step demonstrates the College’s progress toward making sustainability a priority on Swarthmore’s campus.

Unfortunately, because Mountain Justice— the loudest group in Ecosphere— tends to focus on what the campus isn’t doing right in sustainability, it creates the image that the Swarthmore is not focused on sustainability at all. However, that is not the case. It is important to recognize that other groups on campus do exist and are making advances toward creating a more sustainable and just environment. These clubs are just quieter about it, for better or for worse.

Our creation of the Ecosphere newsletter is one step toward providing a space for the other groups in Ecosphere to advertise their events for the whole campus, increasing awareness and involvement. Ultimately, both through the newsletter and through the help of the campus community, we would like to see more collaboration between the groups in Ecosphere to host larger events from which Swatties can learn. For example, just in this past semester, there were MJ sit-ins, two GA movie screenings, Zero Waste games by Garnet Go Green, fruits and vegetables harvested by the Good Food Garden, and many other events that students on campus are not even aware of, which is a lot for a campus that apparently doesn’t do anything! But, because all of these efforts are happening independently, they are often not well advertised and attended by the student body. Imagine what the Swarthmore community could learn and accomplish if Ecosphere started collaborating and more of Swarthmore got involved!

Because there are so many organizations dedicated to sustainability and environmental friendliness, it only makes sense for them to team up and share their resources, and for more Swatties to get involved as well.  If we, as a student body start collaborating more, Ecosphere can start to impact the campus in an even bigger way, on even more issues than we already do, beyond only fossil fuel divestment.

Gavi Mallory and the Crum’s Identity

in Campus Journal/Let's Give a Damn by

 Gavriela Mallory ’17, known as Gavi, is a long distance runner, a member of the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee, and a Bio and Studio Art double major. She’s one of the few Swatties that can go into the Crum and tell you which species are invasive, tell you what kind of trees are around you and draw what each of the trees’ leaves will look like once spring comes. She’s an avid protector of the area, working hard with the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee and facilities to protect and preserve the Crum.

She’s also chainsaw certified.

As someone who, in freshman year, imagined myself in the Crum more than I actually went, I find it both surprising and sad that the general student body’s engagement with the Crum is so minimal, and that understanding of its history and circumstances is so limited. Myself included.

        “It’s incredibly disappointing every time I hear about someone who’s never even been to the Crum,” Gavi said, “I mean I know seniors who go, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s take a walk in the Crum, I’ve never been’ and … it’s been such a huge part of my experience at Swarthmore it’s just so sad to me.”  

The Crum Woods is around 220 acres of mostly forested land straddling the Crum Creek. There are dozens of classes over a myriad of departments that involve the Crum, and there are often other community events such as cleanups and tree planting. Gavi first started consistently exploring the Crum as a cross-country runner. She has also interacted with the Crum as a biology student and an art student, finding the Crum a source of inspiration for her art work. For Gavi, the Crum serves as a place of rejuvenation and recuperation.

“It was so nice to have thse three hours set aside where I would know that I would be away from everything and be in the woods,” Gavi said ( about an art class). “Tt is an opportunity for me to be present with myself.”

Part of the magic of the Crum for Gavi is how it serves as such a stark juxtaposition to the suburbia that is Swarthmore. She is critical of what neighborhoods such as the Swarthmore Ville represent, for she believes the convenience present in these neighborhoods can easily promote ignorance, especially when it comes to resource use.

“I find that I can just breathe better in the Crum,” Gavi said, “it just makes more sense to me.”

She further explains that the Crum being located next to this neighborhood poses a sort of identity crisis for it.

“It’s hard to know what a forest in the middle of suburbia should look like” Gavi said.

        The Crum has been impacted by many different projects throughout the years, most recently the sewer line restoration and the SEPTA trestle. Gavi explains that the Crum is now past a lot of active intervention and is going through a period of restoration. As I followed her sure-footed trod towards Crumhenge, an open field with a couple of large stones arranged in a circle, she pointed out a tree stump.

“I chopped that,” Gavi said.

She explained to me that she chopped the Norway Maple down because it was an invasive species, which are species that take up the resources in a new area and do not have natural competitors in the area, and thus can often times easily overwhelm the surroundings.

“When we talk about restoration and preservation in the Crum, there are some discussions about restoring it to pre-Colombian era, what it would look like if we weren’t here,” said Gavi, “but that’s absurd and probably counterproductive.”

It’s a strange balance. Any human conservation effort is always riddled with tensions that often don’t have right answers. We walked up the gradual slope towards Crumhenge, and in front of us appeared a hill with an eerie, almost neon green grass under the bridge.

        “That is just so visually invasive for me,” Gavi said. “This all stayed green, so bizarrely green, for way too long.”

        Furthermore, the hill and surrounding areas were scattered with thin plastic tubes to protect new saplings. The plastic is to prevent the deer from trampling or harming the trees, but its visual effect is jarring.

        “Doesn’t it look like a graveyard?” said Gavi.

        A graveyard full of baby trees.

Yet despite the visual strangeness and obvious human intervention, Gavi explains that these are all important strategies to help restore the Crum. The grass is so green because the seeds that were used were covered in fertilizer, and the trees need to be protected from the deer. Gavi let me know that from her research, the best argument and aim for an area such as the Crum is for the woods to be resilient.

“Resilience is the idea that it can bounce back and thrive even if there are some disruptions on the system,” Gavi said, “It won’t ever be able to survive without some human intervention because it’s in the middle of suburbia, and there is constant human impact. But the woods can be far more self-sufficient than it currently is.”

Self-sufficiency would mean that the dominant species in the woods are native species, such as beech-trees, tulips, and several types of oak and maple, and that they are effectively reproducing to fill in their own gap.

“You can see, for example, a large old beech tree, and what it would do is send shoots up the same root system to make sure that when the old tree eventually dies there would be someone to take its place,” Gavi said.

The ideal forest would have trees that cover all age ranges.

“You want to be able to see saplings, awkward teenage trees that are kind of skinny and tall, and then you’ll see slightly larger trees  a little smaller than a Frisbee and then you’ll get bigger older trees that are close to a hundred years old.”

As we walked close to the creek behind the Lang Concert hall, Gavi told me that there is an age group missing

“It’s strange, and we don’t know why this is,” said Gavi, “over-abundant deer probably had some role, but there just aren’t a lot of middle-aged trees, and that’s worrying.”

Despite the many worries concerns, the Crum Woods remains one of the best preserved woods in Delaware County, especially for a free space. Gavi said that many people from the Ville take walks there, and  kids can often be seen biking or playing in the space. Many cross country runners also run through, but other than runners there don’t seem to be many Swarthmore college students just hanging out.

        “I find it difficult to get people [from the college] to come out to the Crum,” said Gavi, “because as with any space, there needs to be a community, a norm, that can help bring people out here.”

        She looks up at a large tree and traces etchings of someone’s initials.

        “See this isn’t good for the trees at all, but you can see love notes dated from the 50’s, how cool is that?,” Gavi said.

        Gavi showed me the different markings and how the etchings are stretched out as more time has passed. She believes that, in the Crum, one can feel connected with something greater than themselves; seeing the trees that have survived so long gives her a sense of larger life. Gavi recognizes that people find recuperation in different ways, but she finds the indifference to space and land astonishing.

        “People don’t ask the question: ‘what is this land that I am on,’ anymore,” said Gavi.

        There is a culture at Swarthmore College that perpetuates the stream-lined I-have-to-use-G-Cal-and-run-from-meeting-to-meeting mindset that makes a walk in the Crum seems almost ridiculous unless it’s on your calendar. But on the other hand, if we know what the Crum should look like, the question that still remains is who the Crum can benefit.

        “As a society I think we have stopped actively trying to understand our place,” said Gavi, “we stop caring about where our resources come from, where they are going to go after we dispose of them, that inherent understanding and value of place and understanding of context and the lack of that is sort of an identity crisis.”

         In the Crum Woods Stewardship Committee there is a lot of discussion about student’s safety in the Crum. One of the fears is that those who did not grow up surrounded by nature might be unsure or scared going into the woods.

        “It’s straight up just land, and although it is obvious to me to spend time there, it isn’t for a lot of people,” Gavi said.

        A good rule of thumb that Gavi shared with me for those worried about entering is, uphill: campus, downhill: water. One of the larger questions for Gavi and for the identity of the Crum is accessibility.

        “This is definitely the best natural area that is accessible to people in Chester, but there really is no relationship between the Crum and the community in Chester and you have to question who has the time and resources to set aside time to be outside and have the capacity to learn about the woods and how to be safe in it,” Gavi said.

Are preserved and accessible lands such as the Crum really just for the rich and liberal elite families who can afford to take time off work to stroll with their kids? A nice idea in the backdrop of a nice neighborhood? It is strange to realize that free and easy access to land such as the Crum is a privilege, for it seems that no one really values land such as the Crum anymore. I admit the idea of the Crum in the backdrop of my college experience is appealing to me, but is that all? Can we re-imagine this space, or are we stuck in this strange liminal space of continual restoration efforts with no idea what the Crum’s identity should be? But the next question is who cares if we don’t know what it should or shouldn’t look like? We should all take advantage of this beautiful land keeping in mind that natural spaces like this have been exploited for far too long, far too vigorously. It should be cherished in its own right, and I hope the Crum can begin to have more meaning to more students at Swarthmore.

Go for a walk.

Let’s Give a Damn: Trump Game

in Campus Journal by


We’ve all probably freaked out a little about climate change and President Donald Trump’s outright denial of it. It seems like President Trump has hand-picked a team that will happily sign off the future of our planet to build walls. Or something. And everyone’s playing the Trump Game like, “oh, can he do this?” Can he rip up the Paris Agreement? Can he actually increase coal mining? It’s almost as if I can hear a collective wailing and lamenting about Trump’s EPA picks, and what seems like his personal vendetta against environmental agencies and regulating companies that can be heard all night and day.

So I decided to talk to a couple of different people who have been doing environmental work to see how Trump’s administration might impact their work.

Laura Rigell is a recent Swarthmore alumna who does environmental justice work in Philadelphia, primarily with Serenity Soular. Khai Dao and Roberta Riccio both work in the Environmental Protection Agency. Dao is an engineer working with the RCRA Corrective Action Program, which works in collaboration with facilities with hazardous waste to perform cleanups. Riccio has worked with the EPA for 27 years, most recently with the Water Protection Division to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act. She works with states and oversees public drinking water systems, ensuring they’re doing the right testing and treatment. Mike Ewall is the founder and director of Energy Justice Network. Full disclosure, I did not actually get a chance to interview Mike Ewall. However, I did meet him last year at a conference, and he wrote something that is relevant and will be quoted.


It was clear that this article had the potential to become very bleak, and so I wanted to start by stating that after my conversation with Rigell, Dao, and Riccio, I am reassured (and you should be too) by all of the great work and people who will continue doing what they believe in no matter what. They’re out there, and they’re fighting! Basically, the apocalypse won’t happen, like, tomorrow.

Rigell, who is driven not only by the reality of climate change, but also by the desire to bring about more racial and economic justice, works with Serenity Soular and seems sure that the local project she is working on is not fazed by the uncertain future.

Serenity Soular is a project based in a place called Serenity House, a community center in North Philadelphia. It started out as a gardening project but has since become a project about creating jobs in the community. Since 2014, Serenity Soular has been focusing on training and helping members of the community find employment at a solar installation company. The training is done by Solar State and in fact, a lot of Swatties have been involved with the project, and you can learn about it through the Lang Center or on Swarthmore websites.

“I want to help us shift to a more just society, one with the focus on climate justice,” Rigell said.

The one concrete thing that Trump’s administration can do that concerns Rigell is the changing of the solar investment tax credit. The tax credit is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems for residential and commercial use. It is one of the most important federal policy mechanisms to support the deployment of solar energy in the United States and was just recently renewed to continue until 2021.

“If congress retracted it, the solar industry might really crash. It could have a very negative impact unless the cost of solar comes down a lot,” Rigell said.

When I called Dao and Riccio, I had this in mind and hoped to hear more about the policy changes that concerned them. However, at the start of the interview they professionally and politely told me that there were some restrictions that couldn’t allow them to disclose certain information.

“I guess we have to come out with the process for this interview because the current administration…” trailed off Dao.

“We have certain restrictions about what we can talk about. And there’s a lot that we don’t know about too,” interjected Riccio.

Both of them continuously reassured me that although they were initially shocked, they realize that with any change in administration there are protocols for federal agencies.

“I think it was a shock to everybody in general in how Trump took over the government and how it trickles down to EPA too. One of the first things was the limitations to what we could discuss with the media and also postponing decisions on regulations, so that the administration and their people can review what we’re planning to do in terms of our approach and our regulations, the works,” said Dao, “But, that’s common.”

“In retrospect that’s common when administrations change,” chimed Riccio, “That’s to be expected in the beginning. If something is in the works, they would want the opportunity to review it all.”

However, they were definitely shocked about the change in some of the initiatives and missions that they both hold onto dearly.


“I think the biggest shock right off the bat was when it was announced to the media and then confirmed with the EPA that they took out some initiatives that we thought were pretty commonly accepted within EPA, such as climate change,” said Dao.

From what Dao and Riccio were able to share, it seems that everyone is continuing their jobs as usual with their current budgets, but new proposals or initiatives are on pause or slowed down. Within the EPA, there are no more additional hirings or decisions about new managers. However, Riccio believes that managerial positions will be implemented after there is a new regional administrator. As I spoke with them, it was clear that there was a lot of uncertainty, and almost a defeated laughter accompanying it all.

“Honestly, we don’t know what exactly is going to happen yet. I want to say we’re nervous,” Roberta said.

“Right now,” Dao added, “We’re just following the typical protocols with a change of administration.”

Both Dao and Riccio expressed concerns about how certain protocols can definitely set the agency back, undermining a lot of good work that they and their agency have been doing for a while. How exactly that might look however, no one is sure.

“In general, from what we’ve heard from the Trump administration is outside homeland security and the military, the entire federal government is alert,” said Dao. “For us being scientists and engineers, we really hope the administration continues to use data and science to make the decisions — not just politics.”

Dao and Riccio were both hopeful, however, that smaller local organizations or states can rise up and take more of a lead. Dao laughed and called out California, expressing hope that they will take the lead in regulating what is right for their state. Riccio pointed out that local organizations that are not funded by federal agencies, such as Serenity Soular, can and are definitely going to make a big impact.

Rigell from Serenity Soular and Riccio also both commented on the mass public support and protests that have become more and more commonplace. Both are amazed and inspired by the great activism that is occurring on the local level.

“On some levels, I think this is pushing people back to the question: ‘what do I believe in?,’” Riccio said.

“The left gets more organized under Republican presidents, even when facing the same things that they often ignore under Democratic Party presidents,” Ewall reflected. Ewall’s article is definitely much more hopeful than the interview I had with Dao and Riccio. In fact, he points out that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have both promoted fracking, which “is worse for the climate than coal.”

Ewall writes that resource depletion has more of a say with what energy resource is being used than a president, and thus Trump’s incessant threat about promoting coal is impossible.

“Coal production, in terms of energy value, peaked in 2002 in the U.S. The affordable half of the coal is already used up, and the rest will mostly stay underground, economically unreachable,” he writes. “It’s geology, not a Democratic president, that has a war on coal.”

The EJN have also continued to fight against incinerators in rural Pennsylvania, with two victories in December and January. The EJN is definitely one of the local organizations that can make a huge impact when it comes to bringing environmental justice to local communities.


“We’re hopeful,” ends Khai. “I think common sense and doing the right thing will eventually prevail. I think people in the agency and in the government are going to move forward, and do the right thing, and do their best.”


And no one, not even the President, can stop the people fighting for what is right.

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