It has been just over two years since United Nations representatives from 43 countries gathered in Paris for COP21. At the historic gathering, legislators successfully ratified the Paris Accords — an international agreement to combat climate change by tightening quotas on greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, the meeting itself served as a monumental symbol: A collaboration among leaders to address the concerns of environmentalism and work toward a compromise.
At a more micro level, the United States is failing to progress beyond the achievements made by COP21. If anything, the actions — or lack thereof — of current leadership indicate a clear carelessness toward the very real and present dangers of global warming. President Donald Trump’s administration, for instance, announced this past June — before Hurricane Harvey, the most devastating fires in California’s history and other natural disasters which resulted in an estimated $306 billion in damages — that the United States would withdraw its commitment to the Paris Agreement and, furthermore, its efforts toward climate change mitigation.
When this sort of disregard is modeled by governments, it not only becomes permissible but also is adopted by other institutions. USC is no exception.
Whether recognized or not, excess and wastefulness are surely defining hallmarks of USC culture — one only needs to look around to see it: Building lights, even when not in-use, are regularly left on; recycling bins are almost nowhere to be found along Trousdale Parkway or the campus’ other walkways; the University itself boasts of the fact that it houses trees from all 50 states, neglecting the environmental damage that can result from introducing non-native species to new ecosystems.
A food waste audit conducted by the University’s Environmental Core last year found that, from the more than 2,400 individuals who entered and exited EVK dining hall throughout the course of one day, roughly 470 pounds of total waste. Of that total, about 240 pounds consisted of non-animal food waste and another 80 pounds consisted of animal food waste.
Though this study is not quite comprehensive — it is simply a recording of observations from a single day — it does offer startling insights into the daily, unrecognized behavior of students and staff alike, of wasting and disposing unsustainably and blindly continuing to do so.
A lack of administrative effort is likely the source of these wasteful campus practices.
Since Fall 2017, the University’s Office of Sustainability has remained nearly unstaffed. Halli Bovia, the University’s former director of sustainability, resigned last October. This was followed by the resignations of Jessica Cohen and Erin Fabris, the Facilities Management Services’ Waste and Recycling Administrator and Housing’s Sustainability Coordinator, respectively. While the position formerly held by Bovia is in the process of being rehired, those of Cohen and Fabris may or may not be restaffed.
Surely, students’ environmentalist efforts cannot come to fruition if there are no resources going toward the cause.
Student organizations like the Environmental Student Assembly are already working to spearhead change on campus — whether it be through simply informing students or linking them up with clubs like the Environmental Core or The Sustainability Project, they are providing students with opportunities to recognize and change their wasteful habits. Yet, without any resources and support from administration, these hopes for progress will fail to become reality.
What the University needs is not necessarily a change of mindset. The mindset is already there. In theory, as a collective, the University is committed to environmentalist causes, or at least to the aesthetics of environmentalism. We like the idea of being “green.” We recognize the importance of conservation. We do not consider ourselves to be wasteful, and, more likely than not, do not actively try to be so.
What the University needs, therefore, is a change in practice: a task that is obviously easier said than done, but a task that will nonetheless require partnership between students and faculty.
There needs to be a response when students reach out to staff, and this, of course, requires that a staff is present. When it comes to campus sustainability, the issue seems to have fallen off the agenda when, in fact, it is one that affects not just students and staff, but all individuals. Simply put, there is no locality to environmental degradation. The fact that the University has all the necessary resources is one matter, but whether the University decides to utilize them properly is something else entirely.