The Wildcat Theater was near full capacity, occupied with students, faculty and members of the community who came to hear an activist read an essay he wrote specifically for the occasion.
The campus-wide Engaged Learning Series’ theme for this year is On Air. Chip Ward, an environmental activist and author of numerous essays and books, presented on behalf of the On Air series. The Environmental Issues Committee also sponsored the Tuesday afternoon event.
Ward, who coined himself not an environmentalist but an “embodimentalist,” said the term “environmentalist” is worn out and misunderstood. He said these misconceptions make it easy for people to dismiss their concerns.
“We know we embody our environments — that is, we incorporate the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that is the source of our food into our bodies and our flesh and blood,” said Ward, reading from his specially prepared essay. “And the sooner we get that, the better.”
Ward said the closest link humans have to their environment is their bodies, because of the human dependence of nature. He also said that embodiment of the environment has no exceptions and is true for everyone.
Geography professor Daniel Bedford agreed.
“I think everybody is (an ’embodimentalist’), whether they know it or not,” Bedford said. He said everyone is taking in and embodies the environment. “. . . Everybody needs to be thinking about this, because there are no exceptions. We are all breathing the same air.”
Everybody who lives along the Wasatch Front suffers the effects of the seasonal inversions. According to Airquality.utah.gov, an estimated 1 in 3 Utahns experiences some type of respiratory problem during high pollution periods, and prolonged exposure to low levels of ozone can reduce a healthy adult’s lung function by 15-20 percent.
“Do upwind, upstream from others as you would have them do upwind and upstream to you,” joked Ward, but he noted that citizens are risking their health for the benefit of corporations who pollute relentlessly. “The decisions we make about what we allow into our water, air and in our soil gets translated into flesh and blood. Your blood. This is not arbitrary.”
Ward said that, as an activist, he understood that people will demand change when they realize what is at stake. He said that when people take on their roles as engaged and informed citizens, they bring about change.
WSU is going through similar changes because students, faculty and staff have expressed their concerns about the sustainability of the multiple facilities on campus. Emily Mead, who works in the Energy & Sustainability Office, said making the campus more sustainable and “green” is the office’s major goal.
“We’re installing solar on many of the buildings,” said Mead, who mentioned that reducing water usage across campus is an improvement the office plans to implement. But energy is the organization’s biggest strength, she said, recommending students visit the sustainability website.
More students utilizing public transit are one way for the campus and community to reduce pollution. Bedford said that, having grown up in London, he never took anything but public transit to get to the city. “The more public transit, the better. I think people would use the public transit system way more than it’s being used right now, but it’s just not convenient for people. I live two and a half miles away from campus; when the weather is nice, I ride my bike.”