Ecosphere Coalition Holds Open Collective and Sets Goals for 2020

Ecosphere, Swarthmore’s coalition of all the environmental groups on campus, held an open meeting on Sunday, to identify and discuss the implementation of environmental goals that should be achieved by the year 2020.The coalition, which was started last year and which just held its second conference, consists of all seven environmental groups on campus — Mountain Justice, Earthlust, the Good Food Project, Green Advisors, Think Climate, Environmental Justice and Swat Frack Action.  Ecosphere aims to facilitate communication between all the different environmental groups on campus and foster a greater sense of community by holding monthly meetings with representatives from each group attending. Patrick Ammerman ’14 and Laura Rigell ’16, sustainability interns at the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, acted as facilitators for the meeting on Sunday.

Ammerman thought that the meeting was successful and allowed Ecosphere to identify achievable goals for the future. “We got several connected and achievable ideas written down and appointed a point person for each,” he said. “We established central groups of people and core members for each idea that we discussed.”

Some of the ideas that the attendees identified were divestment from fossil fuel industries and investment in environmentally friendly ones, having energy-efficient buildings at Swarthmore, which was discussed in relation to the Campus Master Planning meetings, and adequate legislation and institutions to make the college carbon-neutral by 2020. The idea to keep working towards establishing an Environmental Studies department at Swarthmore was reiterated with enthusiasm.

Ammerman felt that having an open forum for members of different groups and even students who are presently uninvolved helped in establishing the diverse range of goals that Ecosphere settled on. He talked about the previously established system, saying, “The system of monthly meetings with representatives from all the groups was leading to the same people turning up at the meetings and sort of becoming a group in itself. This meeting was successful because it saw other members attend as well as unaffiliated students.”

He is a firm believer in the purpose of the Ecosphere and believes it will benefit its constituent groups. “Many people in the Ecosphere are interwoven (part of multiple groups) and there are always possibilities for people to help each other. Divestment and composting may be different goals with no overlapping areas but the groups can come together for events or help with advertising another group’s activities,” Ammerman said.

Though the meeting was only the beginning of Ecosphere’s planning process, some of the goals that they identified and will subsequently try to achieve will see minor and major changes around campus.

“We talked about being involved in the budgeting for Sharples, to address the lack of vegetables. We want to bring in more local food and have a tray-less dining hall like Bryn Mawr’s,” said Ammerman.  Another change the student body can expect in the future is the availability of reusable mugs at the coffee bars.

Of the expected major changes, like Ecosphere’s involvement or suggestions for the Campus Master Plan, Ammerman and the rest are still at an early stage in the planning process to propose any major changes.

One of the main topics of discussion raised at the meeting was Earthlust’s need to identify a new cause to support and re-evaluating its relevance in the current environmental context of Swarthmore. Earthlust was the first environmental group to be established at Swarthmore and originally served as the all-purpose “green” group on campus.  As Ben Goloff ’15, a representative for Earthlust and other members acknowledged, that particular role is not relevant anymore, considering the existence of groups with specific goals, like Mountain Justice.

Goloff raised these questions first at the Ecosphere meeting, and then at an Earthlust meeting on Monday night. He said, “Earthlust doesn’t have an ongoing issue or structure presently. The landscape around us has changed. Till a few years ago, we were one out of four environmental groups on campus and there are seven now. I’m not sure how to continue and further conversation about this needs to be pursued.”

Speaking about the future of Earthlust, Goloff said, “ We need to carve a niche within Ecosphere. Earthlust has been around for around forty years and has lots of history. It’s valuable and means a lot to people.”

For now, Ecosphere and all its components will continue to identify common goals to work on in addition to their specific agendas.  Ammerman was particularly excited about the Board’s decision to focus on Climate Change and institute a Climate Action Plan.  He said, “This is pivotal for Swat environmentalism and will be important for a long time.”

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