Sustainability activists hold panel for Earth Day

By Kelsey Gobroski
Sun Star Reporter

Four sustainability activists came together on Thursday at Schaible Auditorium to discuss eco-friendly initiatives and how student groups can move beyond local organization into statewide movements that can implement change.

As part of the Earth Day and Springfest weekend activities, Amy Snider, president of Pi Sigma Alpha invited Tomasso Boggia, an advocacy associate from the Center for American Progress and Evon Peter from the Indigenous Leadership Institute to join UAF’s Robert Holden and Kevin Mair from UAS for the panel discussion. Jessie Peterson from the Northern Alaska Environmental Center moderated the event. The panelists focused on the pathways to implement change.

Last semester, UAF held a similar panel with a campus focus. Snider said she wanted this new discussion to unify UA sustainability efforts statewide, but UAA was too busy with its own Earth Day to attend. She decided to branch out from the UA system to find replacements, which brought Boggia and Peter to the event.

Before joining the center for American progress, a Washington D.C. progressive think tank, Boggia was the Sustainability Event Coordinator for UC Santa Cruz. He said that campus “green fees” are indicative of how attitudes have changed. “Young people are not just saying ‘we need sustainability. Give us sustainability.’ We’re willing to put money on the line,” he said. Boggia also stressed the importance of partnerships with like-minded groups. California students, he said, gained more of a voice when they started multi-campus initiatives.

Peter, who has worked with the UN to represent indigenous and environmental interests, is the executive director of the Indigenous Leadership Institute, based here in Fairbanks. He said that partnerships alone don’t help if they lack diversity. “When we lack diversity in any form … we lack critical insights,” He emphasized a healthy relationship with the land and each other, drawing parallels between social problems and non-sustainability.

UAS has a blossoming sustainability effort that began in 2007, said Mair. He is the chairman of the Sustainability Committee at University of Alaska – Southeast. The committee has monthly meetings, but Mair said most of the committee members’ time is spent on grandiose ideas. At the moment, the UAS campus is working on getting funding for a greenhouse, as well as solidifying their recycling program. Mair said what they really need is support at the chancellor level.” We want to really institutionalize sustainability by getting it into the mission statement,” Mair said.

Holden is the associate director of Auxiliary and Business Services at UAF. The greenhouse next to the university’s power plant is already powered by waste heat from the plant. Last summer, the campus got its vegetables from the campus greenhouse. Eventually, the university would like to reach out to local farmers, Holden said. He said he would be looking for interested partners this summer at the Farmer’s Market.

“I think the momentum is happening; I don’t think it’s going to stop … It’s only going to grow. Us being here is testimony to that,” audience member Jessie Huff said.

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