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Nun, activist advocates eco-friendly measures

Jen Mall | Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sister Paula Gonzalez, a well-known environmental activist, made a two-day visit to Saint Mary’s this week teaching classes and lecturing on the Earth Charter. She also made an informal review of the level of environmental responsibility on campus.

A member of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Ohio, Gonzalez was invited to visit Saint Mary’s by the Center for Academic Innovation’s Community Leadership Team (CoLT) for Earth Coalition.

Over 60 students, faculty, administrators, nuns and community members attended her campus-wide lecture Monday. Each lecture attendee was given a copy of the Earth Charter, of which Saint Mary’s and the Sisters of the Holy Cross are signatories. Its main principles are respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice as well as democracy, nonviolence and peace.

“Without a vision for the future, people perish,” Gonzalez said. “I believe the Earth Charter is our vision. We need desperately to follow these guidelines in order to make our unsustainable 20th century a sustainable 21st century.”

Gonzalez, who has lectured around the world on the topic of sustainable development, said that although most of Catholic Social Teaching deals with human virtues, there is also a sense of caring for God’s Creation, the Earth. She expressed her concern about the extinction of organisms.

“We are losing yet another way to know God and his great works,” Gonzalez said.

Saint Mary’s sophomore Eva Tonsing-Carter thought the lecture was very informative.

“I really am amazed at how much of the world’s resources the United States consumes every day,” Tonsing-Carter said. “Sister Paula showed me that I should be more informed about products I use everyday, take for example bottled water. One bottle of water costs as much as 1,000 gallons of New York City tap water and utilizes petroleum products to make the bottle which takes an unbelievably long amount of time to decompose.”

Gonzalez spent Tuesday morning visiting two classes. In the afternoon, after conducting a ‘walk-through’ assessment, she met with a small group of students, faculty, administrators, grounds crew and maintenance to discuss her suggestions and ideas to make Saint Mary’s a more eco-friendly place.

“Although Saint Mary’s is a magnificent and beautiful campus, it could be much ‘greener’,” Gonzalez said. “Everywhere you look there is always something that can be made better, after all, nature reuses everything.”

She said Saint Mary’s is average in its efforts to “live-lightly” but hopes that in the future, the College can become a model ‘green’ campus for students, alumnae, the community and the world.

Gonzalez was critical of the windows in many of the buildings on campus that lacked double-paned glass. The insulating properties of double-paned windows prevent heat loss and significantly decrease heating costs, Gonzalez said.

Lighting at the College was also a concern to Gonzalez. Many buildings were built or remodeled in the 1960s when it was common practice to install “a ceiling made of lights,” Gonzalez said.

To make Saint Mary’s more eco-friendly Gonzalez suggested old toilets and sink fixtures be updated. She said leaky sinks like those in Le Mans are blatantly wasting resources. Toilets with lower flush volumes should also be invested in, to conserve water usage on campus.

Using turbines to capture wind power was another suggestion.

“This is something you can’t afford not to do,” Gonzalez said. “With turbine technology improving almost daily, it will be well worth the initial investment and serve as a money-maker in the future.”

Lastly Gonzalez recommended the campus raise its own fruits and vegetables. Through a community-supported agriculture garden, Saint Mary’s could grow organic food that could then be used in the dining hall and sold to the community, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said she was impressed by the widespread interest the Saint Mary’s community expressed in environmental issues because every individual can make a difference.

Gonzalez lauded Saint Mary’s for composting leaves and brush collected from campus grounds. She was also complimentary about a new position created at the College to oversee energy and resource usage.