Life In A Bubble: How Living Sustainably Isn’t Statewide // Michele Garlit

There is a lot you can say is wrong with Santa Clara University. The ethnic diversity is nonexistent, the university’s interest only seems to be the bottom line, the athletics department is the only one on campus that seems to care about the sporting events. These things, I all have beef with.

However, there is one thing that SCU seems to be doing right: sustainability. Santa Clara University has done a lot over the course of its history to make itself one of the most sustainable universities across the country, and this has not gone unnoticed. The university dining hall has received a grade A from PETA for its humane dining practices, and, overall, SCU has been ranked 19th in most sustainable colleges by the Princeton Review (Vossugh).

Unfortunately, this does not stretch across the rest of beautiful California. With news of the statewide drought, California has been garnering a lot of attention about our environment and how climate change has been affecting the state. What all these reporters and others aren’t noting is that California has a history of been unsustainable and manipulating the green earth that has fostered our booming economy.

California is a huge state so it isn’t surprising that the state produces massive amounts of carbon emissions and waste—that’s just what comes with having more than ten percent of the whole United States population in your state (“California Quickfacts”). In addition, Californians are known for being the self-entitled people that are seen in reality programs about Southern California. “People don’t do things unless you force them to,” explained one of my friends perfectly about the mindset people have about going green. With these two things in mind, it isn’t surprising that California has a large affect on the environment in a whole. And it’s not like there is nothing being done. California legislation passes new laws yearly to help the state be more sustainable, such a plastic bag ban that started January first this year across the state.

But size and population is not an excuse for letting an issue go. California needs to do more in order to make a lasting difference on the environment we live and work in, similar to the ideals that Santa Clara University promotes on their campus. Although Santa Clara University makes a valiant attempt to better the world with their environmental policy, the difference that the university makes is overturned by the massive air and water pollution as well as habitat fragmentation that California does on a regular basis.

One of the biggest issues that California has encountered is the one that we breath in daily. California’s massive air pollution has critically affected the climate of not only the state, but other countries. To put it bluntly, California has a massive amount of cars, thus the pollution of the state matches the vehicles emission rates. The interesting thing about this is that to combat air pollution in California, the state has studies done practically yearly on the amount of emissions that are released from the various outlets that produce greenhouse gases. An example of this being the report that PG &E did on CO2 emissions that dairy farms and other meat corporations release yearly (Kintisch). But next to nothing has been fixed. Despite these yearly updated emissions reports, next to nothing is being done to decrease the carbon footprint of our Golden State. Of course, there is all the pomp and circumstance of sending to California’s Congress an Environmental Bill on the issue. But either it is not passed, or it is passed several altered due to all the red tape that surrounds different industries, one such being agriculture.

The cold hard truth is that environmental justice around the state has taken a backseat. There are bigger things to worry about then the amount of air pollution we are creating daily. Funding that could be going to solar panels that reduce both our dependence on natural gas as well as oil are going to things that are seen as more important for the time being, such as: road maintenance, educational programs and tax breaks for various industries. In Southern California, home to one of the biggest cities in the country, there was a clear discussion about the “priority of diesel emissions” across the area. As always, a survey was done of the emissions were done, and, in conclusion, what was simply stated was: “We should do something about this and environmental justice should be a priority,” (Marshall). However, this was done in 2014, and no new legislation has been put in place to limit the diesel emissions.

Meanwhile at SCU, though energy is the number one aspect of their emissions, SCU makes every attempt to be energy efficient. Everything has been upgraded and many lighting fixtures around campus are on motion monitors to reduce wasted energy. In addition SCU also has energy challenges between residence halls to promote thinking about our own personal usage. Also, on all new university buildings, there are solar panels, perfect for the nearly daily California sunshine (“Energy and Climate”).

Even though water has recently become a very touchy subject with the state, California has always had a one-sided relationship with their water supply. Our water has been polluted by us for years now. California’s history is built off of the manipulation of our own water supply, such as seen in mining for gold and later, in the Bay Area, mercury. One of the number one things that are taught to students in elementary school is about the Gold Rush that helped western expansion throughout California in 1949. This basic information helps explain the beginnings of California’s water pollution. To assist gold mining, countless rivers across across the state, specifically the Sacramento River, was diverted in order to flow shallower to assist the gold panniers. When the Gold Rush died down a year later, these same rivers that helped clear out the dirt from the gold were then used to power factories and even larger mining operations, such as the Almaden Quicksilver mining. Water from a river was diverted to assist in the separation of cinnabar, the rock form of mercury, from the other rock that was mined in the process, and the run off flowed into the close by San Francisco Bay.

With a history like this all across California, it is of little surprise that water pollution is causing awful things to happen. In Orange County alone, an estimated of 38,000 people annual are becoming ill due to exposure to polluted coastal water supplies. Some of these places being, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, two of the most popular beaches to visit in Southern California (Dwight). Think about this: the environment is so polluted that people can’t live in it without becoming physically ill. This sounds like something that would happen in a horror movie or at least in some far flung Third World country, not California. But it is. This is our home, this is what we have done to it, and this is how it’s hurting us.

However, the world is not lost of hope. The EPA has stepped in to assist California to provide clean drinking water in municipal areas, especially in central California (Siciliano). Hopefully this will begin to solve the issue of water pollution that is affecting the state, which becomes that much more desperate now that the California drought has reached an all-time peak.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 11.49.48 PMMeanwhile at SCU, there have been motions to decrease the amount of water running things around campus. All camps fountains have been turned off, minus the most photographed fountain on campus. Recycled water is being used to irrigate the plants on nearly 85% of the places around the campus. In addition to this, all new landscaping projects use plants that are drought resistance and run-off is purified through things called Bioswales. (“Landscaping”)

A final aspect that California has failed the environment in is in its constant destruction of natural habitats and saving only enough for populations to steadily decrease annually. As a San Jose, California permanent resident since the day I was born, I can honestly say there is at least one construction project going around the city daily and new house developments seem to pop out of nowhere always. It is this that makes California so dangerous. On average, California has 400,000 new residents yearly, and we must make space for these new residents in the shape of creating new structures (“California Quickfacts”). However, every time a new structure is built, what people don’t realize is that a habitat is being destroyed.

Though California has a very active Department of the Interior that helps create public park areas, it is the issue of habitat fragmentation that really plagues California. Habitat fragmentation is the act of breaking apart larger habitats, thus, creating more edges, where native animal populations can go literally off the reservation. This means that predators, such as the common house cat, can get in easier, and native species, such as yellow finches, can get out easier, dropping populations of the native species steadily until there are no left to annihilate (Seabloom). And this is what is occurring in Southern California currently, as seen by the author of Where the Wild Things Were, William Stolzenburg. This collection of different environmental studies stories most often tell of the horrors that happen to various species when there habitat is broken up beyond repair. The scariest story being about the flooding of an entire forest, leaving the treetop islands to become the ending line of many different animals, such as the Atta Ant and a dwindling group of howler monkeys. However, like I stated earlier, Southern California was mentioned in the chapter titled “The Lions of Zion”, that is pretty much what I gave the example of before: domestic house cats caused an entire population of yellow finches to disappear entirely (Stolzenberg).

(Left) Plants that are not genetically diverse in bushiness (Right) Plants that are genetically diverse

Another problem that comes with habitat fragmentation is that populations of animals are losing their genetic diversity, meaning that if there is a disease that comes through, the entire population can be wiped out. (Suarez) Genetic diversity is something that people think so little of  because in humans there are so many different markers in our DNA that even if there were only a hundred couples left on earth, the generations following would be genetically diverse enough to survive without fear. However, you must view this situation with the understanding that these animals reproduce nearly every single spring until their lifetime comes to an end. With their habitat being divided, so is the number of survivors. These now smaller groups must last the incoming attacks from predators and still procreate. Next spring, the children will have to procreate with others, possibly mating with others that were in their own birth group, or their siblings. This means that genetic diversity dwindles quickly, magnifying the process that would eventually occur with the hundred couples. Now understanding the fear? Yes, the thought of being in a relationship with your creepy cousin is very scary indeed.

While Santa Clara University usually has an aspect that they do to fix the issue, for habitat fragmentation, SCU is as guilty as the rest of California. As more and more students attend the university, Santa Clara has opened up new construction projects yearly, the latest being a new Art History building to be built across the street from the Alumni Science Building. How many native animals are Santa Clara University killing in the process?

Though there is still much that can be done at Santa Clara University, there is even more that must be done by California as a whole in order to improve. But, as I said in almost paragraph, the state is trying to do something at every turn. To limit air pollution, there has been a greater push on Spare the Air Days; for water, there has been a surplus of conservation and reuse techniques being used.The issue I have with this is not that California is not doing anything to fix the abuse of the environment. My issue is that California is doing too little, too late. From the first reports on water pollution, California legislation should’ve attempted to fix the problem. When new ways to create energy were produced, California should’ve bought them up. And look at habitat fragmentation: there is nothing being done. The biggest thing being even considered is a bridge to let animals pass over Highway 5 to another habitat, but this has met severe opposition due to the huge price tag. California has and always be my home, but unless things are fixed more quickly and in greater amounts, this beautiful state will be nothing but a waste land.

Works Cited:

“California QuickFacts.” United States Census Bureau. US Department of Commerce, 2014. Web. 10 June 2015.

Dwight, Ryan H., Linda M. Fernandez, Dean B. Baker, Jan C. Semenza, and Betty H. Olson.”Estimating the Economic Burden from Illnesses Associated with Recreational Coastal Water Pollution—a Case Study in Orange County, California.” Journal of Environmental Management 76.2 (2005): 95-103. Web.

“Energy and Climate.” Center for Sustainability. Santa Clara University, 2014. Web. 10 June 2015.

Kintisch, Eli. “California Emissions Plan to Explore Use of Offsets.” Science 321.5885 (2008): 23. JSTOR. Web. 9 June 2015.

Marshall, Julian D., Kathryn R. Swor, and Nam P. Nguyen. “Prioritizing Environmental Justice and Equality: Diesel Emissions in Southern California.” Environmental Science & Technology Environ. Sci. Technol. 48.7 (2014): 4063-068. Environmental Science &Technology. Web.

Seabloom, Eric W. “Extinction Rates under Nonrandom Patterns of Habitat Loss.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 99.17 (2002): 11229-1234. JSTOR. Web. 9 June 2015.

Siciliano, Stephen. “EPA to Provide $183.5 Million for California to Address Water Pollution, Infrastructure.” Environment Reporter (2014): n. pag. Bloomberg BNA. Web.

“Landscaping.” Sustainability at SCU. Santa Clara University, n.d. Web. 10 June 2015.

Stolzenburg, William. Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008. Print.

Suarez, Andrew V. “Effects of Fragmentation and Invasion on Native Ant Communities in Coastal Southern California.” Ecology 79.6 (1998): 2041-056. JSTOR. Web. 10 June 2015.

Vossugh, Tina. “Santa Clara Universityranks 19th in Princeton Review’s “Top 50 Green Colleges” List.” SCU Today: University Press Release. Santa Clara University, 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 June 2015.

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