As of last semester, ASUSF Senate added a representative to conduct sustainability efforts and build a sustainability culture on campus.
Often times, through our daily routines, many of the activities, practices, and actions that we take — like cutting across the grass as we walk to and from class — seem harmless and therefore go unnoticed; what we don’t realize, however, is that many of these actions actually affect our lives on a larger scale, specifically in terms of the environment.
How would you feel about eating expired food? So-called “garbage”? You probably do not find this notion particularly appealing.
Then again, does the fact that one-third of the world’s food goes to waste every year change your mind? What about the statistic that the United States alone generates 30% of the world’s waste (according to the United Nations Environment Program)? In case those do not change your mind, I’ll try one more time: Americans waste about 1 million pounds of stuff per year…per person. This includes food, clothes, books, etc.
How can we start to limit this waste? Besides recycling and composting, there must be something we can do to give refuse new life. Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, has an idea: he will soon open a market called “Daily Table” in Dorchester, Massachusetts, that will sell expired food at discounted prices. Some food will be prepared at the store, and some will be sold as-is, going beyond the standard format of an expired-food store that merely relocates food that has passed its expiration date to a new location.
As stated before, this is not a wholly original idea; there are already stores that sell expired food, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. Rauch says that his store is “about how to bring affordable nutrition to the underserved in our cities”. While this is an admirable—if not essential—goal, I think we should be getting those who do not need to buy deeply discounted food to want to buy it. Why should anyone buy food that is not as good as what they have the means to buy? To no longer contribute to waste—a problem that most of us can afford to be ignorant of.
According to CNN, more than 90% of Americans throw out food before it has gone bad, which begs the question, when is food actually not fit to be consumed? According to many nutrition experts, food that is a few days past its sell-by date is perfectly fit to be eaten. This is because the sell-by date is a guideline, not some perfectly specific prophetization of when a food can no longer be consumed. Expiration dates estimate how long food can maintain its taste and nutrients—not necessarily how long it will be edible for. Basically, many nutritionists are saying that we shouldn’t be taking food freshness quite as seriously as we do, because our stringent behavior may be creating more problems than solutions.
That being said, eating truly expired food can be dangerous. Although most food-borne illnesses come from contamination of various foods by pathogens like salmonella—not the age of the food—mold on food can cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches, and food that is actually expired can cause food poisoning or botulism, the latter of which can result in death due to respiratory failure.
So, what can we make of all this dizzying information? To start, we can learn more about the properties of what we buy, to figure out when a strawberry won’t be as delicious as it once was, and when it can actually make us sick. We should also learn the shelf lives of the foods in our cabinets, and remember that while chocolate can last for quite a while without posing health dangers, canned food past its prime can cause botulism. After all, we want humans to live as long as they can—why not ask the same of our food?
When we flip on the light switch, charge our phones, or do the laundry, we generally do not give it a second thought.
But the amount of energy required to fuel our lives is astonishing. Most of the energy in the U.S. is not derived from renewables. Around 82 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels — namely oil, gas, and coal. These dirty, finite sources of energy release heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and are responsible for dangerously accelerating the warming of our planet.
What does this mean for the people of the world, especially the poor? It does not take an elaborate research study — though many have been done — to see that the communities most damaged by climate change are those of color and low socioeconomic status. The symptoms of climate change are evident in the most economically vulnerable communities.
Across the world, the poor are suffering disproportionately from the consequences of natural degradation, air and water pollution, lack of access to healthy food, poor environmental regulation, and rising sea levels. This trend is not at all coincidental. These are serious environmental justice issues that demand our attention.
In the last year alone, our country experienced record-breaking heat, droughts, and hurricanes, which impacted hundreds of thousands of people and cost our country billions of dollars. As climate change intensifies, economically struggling people will be forced to bear the additional burden of extreme climate-related events. As glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt, people living on islands and coasts will be the first to experience the catastrophe of rising waters. Many millions around the world’s coasts may be displaced in the coming years, and many will perish.
The urgent need for curbing fossil fuel consumption has motivated a group of USF students to start a divestment campaign, which is asking our university to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. The group goes by the name of “Fossil Free USF”, and can be found on Facebook. A petition to express support for the campaign has been circulating the campus and is gaining momentum.
With Earth Day around the corner, one way to celebrate is to take some time to reflect on our own habits, explore ways to cut down on our energy consumption, learn more about environmental justice issues, and write to our elected officials demanding that they implement policies that safeguard disenfranchised people and their environmental security. We cannot sit back and rely on the government to offer timely protection to the people who need it most. To those communities, climate change is more than just a possibility. It’s here, and it’s affecting them now. We need to rise up in the face of climate change denial and stand
by our fellow human beings in pursuit of justice.
The high costs of living here means those who are not wealthy will find it hard to share in an environmental dream.
It is an environmental injustice that living in San Francisco has become and remains out of the reach of middle- and low-income people, not just an economic one.
April 22 will mark the 43rd Earth Day, and as it approaches, talk of divestment from fossil fuels, green building and transport, bike paths, slow food, and sustainable farming dominate the conversation about being green. That many USF students are eager to take up these causes is wonderful to see.
But these issues need to be placed in the context of a very real environmental problem that could not be closer to our college home. It is a problem that is by no means unique to San Francisco, but it is especially acute in a city that, though it prides itself on the diversity of its residents, becomes less diverse by the year.
San Francisco’s problem is that of providing an environmentally sound human habitat for all — the rich, and the poor; professionals and laborers; the politically powerful and the marginalized; the generationally established and recent immigrants; minorities as well as majorities.
In many ways, San Francisco is the embodiment of that environmentally sound human habitat, but the incredibly high cost of living here means the green gem that is the City is only reasonably available to an ever-shrinking, homogenous, and wealthy segment of the population.
Our city’s population density — in the U.S., second only to New York — makes San Francisco what is called a “walkable” town. The green implications of living in a walkable town are that its residents are healthier for not having to jump in a car every time to conduct business, commute, or run errands. The proximity of stores, schools, offices and open spaces in San Francisco, combined with an extensive and well-used public transit system, translates into dramatically reduced fossil fuel use per person, and reduced pollution and energy use overall.
And, increasingly, these benefits are only for those who can afford it.
Or take this scenario: the ease of being able to walk, bike, or bus to an urban farmer’s market to purchase locally grown, sustainably farmed food is something we take for granted in San Francisco; it is luxury in other, less expensive locales, where residents may have no choice but to drive to a commercial complex sitting on acres of asphalt to buy conventionally-raised food.
The fact that the San Francisco farmer’s market scenario is increasingly restricted to the wealthy, and the second, less environmentally desirable situation is what the rest of society is being limited to, means a clear injustice is happening.
In USF’s celebration of Earth Day, if we lose sight of this growing environmental inequality taking place just outside campus, all our efforts toward sustainability are suddenly hamstrung.
From the constant sound of drilling, hammering, and the weird opera music playing throughout the day, it’s pretty apparent that USF will be adding another building to its campus. The John Lo Schiavo, S.J. Center for Science and Innovation will open to students fall of 2013 — but that’s not the most exciting part. This building is designed to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Sustainable Design (LEED) Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This organization began in 1998 and is now used in over 7,000 national projects.
Some key environmental factors of CSI’s design include the use of recycled and renewable building materials, efficient use of natural light and air, solar power collection, non-toxic building materials, water use reduction, and maximal open space just to name a few.
The certification system, which began in 2005, is ranked by a points system that is based on design, construction, and operation based under five categories: water efficiency, sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, resources and materials, and indoor environmental quality. The highest possible ranking is 100; in order to get Gold certification, the final score must be between 60 and 79 points of those categories.
The highest certification is Platinum, which is extremely difficult to achieve and requires 80 points or higher. Michael E. London, the assistant vice president for facilities management at USF, listed the benefits as “self evident,” stating that this construction will “improve utility conservation, use sustainable materials and methods, and will increase environmental quality.”