Across the world, humans are fighting the threat that this planet’s heart may stop beating soon. Massive movements are coming together to push back the Earth’s expiration date, and communities are working to reduce their ecological footprints. These issues can’t be answered in any one way, but it seems that it should be met with gusto.
Principia College has its very own environmental guardians in the form of individuals from the sustainability minor. Three different projects – the bee project, Aquaponics, and zero-waste management – are currently breaking new ground on campus. Sustainability professor Karen Eckert is the advisor for the minor and, according to sophomore Tyler Nichoson, is said to be very “jazzed up” about the sustainability entrepreneurs on campus.
Nichoson is the president of a new sustainability group called the Principia Beekeepers Association (PBA). The group currently has four other members: sophomores Amanda Milhous, Chase Schneider, Andrew Jesper and Sam Harlan. These four recently discovered their love for bees through Nichoson’s independent project, which he developed with Eckert.
Nichoson explains that there is a lot more to bees and pollination than most people are aware of. Albert Einstein said “without bees the human race would die within four years,” making the world extremely dependent on these creatures. The PBA hopes to teach more people about the importance of bees and to appreciate them, rather than be afraid of them. The bee project and the association on campus are long-term projects that can be continued by future students for years to come.
The PBA aims “to involve students and the college community in beekeeping and pollinator conservation.” The group recently built their first two hive boxes, located near the soccer field on the road up to Elliston. Eventually these hives will be up and running with 20,000 bees. Beginning the first week of the fall 2014 semester, PBA will be working with dining services and the Store to supply fresh, local, and organic honey to the campus. All profits will go back to the sustainability minor so that the project itself will be completely sustainable.
Sophomores Nadine Tidwell, Ryan Richardson and Conrad Bollinger are also pursuing sustainability minors, and are working on another new project called Aquaponics. “We’re finding new ways to live sustainably,” Tidwell, by “finding out how to produce locally grown fish and vegetables for the campus without needing land to do it, and cutting out transportation to make a smaller carbon footprint.” Aquaponics is a food production system that combines aquaculture and hydroponics into a symbiotic environment.
“We’re planning to build our system using at least 80 percent recyclable materials, to make the system more natural,” she continued. “What happens is that the waste from the fish fertilizes the lettuce, so instead of using outside fertilizers and chemicals to make the lettuce grow, we have just added an animal to the system. We do have to add new water, occasionally, using rainwater collection. The lettuce sucks up the leftover nutrients and the leftover water is recycled back.”
Another student in the sustainability minor is junior Vanessa Waller, who is currently writing her capstone on how to manage Principia College as a “zero-waste” community. This means that Prin would “diverge 90 percent or more of their waste away from landfills by using recycling or composting,” says Waller. She is making recommendations on how the college could change its system down the road. According to Waller, “Principia’s current divergence is at about 30 to 40 percent, so this project won’t be implemented overnight.”
Zero-waste is one of the most cutting edge ways to manage waste in the world; for example, San Francisco is currently working on a proposal to be implemented by 2020. Waller connects this mission of hers to Principia’s vision statement, which says to strive to be sustainable and technologically up to date with the 21st entury. Ultimately, Waller says, “if Principia could achieve this zero-waste status, it would become a role model for other institutions who want to reduce their footprint. It would also make people feel better about how they are contributing to the environment. I’m doing it because I want to make waste-management popular and fashionable, because it’s important to have a smaller footprint.”
According to the World Footprint Network, humans currently rely on the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources consumed and to absorb waste. Since only one planet is currently in service to humanity, the Earth is backed up with requests and takes a year and a half to regenerate what is used in one year.
Ecologists refer to this phenomenon as “overshoot,” which is most visible with global climate change. It affects not only the Earth but all of its inhabitants as well. In addition, the United Nations predicts that at least two planets will be necessary to support humanity by 2030 if current patterns continue.