On each floor of Mentry Hall and Hasley Hall, small digital counters slowly tick upwards into the tens of thousands. The figures displayed on seven of them as of this morning added up to 236,373.
That is the number of plastic water bottles the six water bottle refilling stations reportedly saved since they were installed in 2013.
The bottle filling stations— which cost nearly $1,000 today— were paid for by Lockheed Martin as part of an increased sustainability effort, according to Jason Oliver, a professor at COC and co-chair of the Sustainable Development committee.
This change is emblematic of a greater push, across the country and particularly on campus, toward more environmentally conscious behavior.
“As a society we have been working actively for the last 50 or 60 years in order to raise awareness about environmental issues,” says Oliver.
It appears as if that work has paid off. A Gallup poll published last March indicated that American concern over climate change was at the highest point in decades. Furthermore, the poll stated that belief in human-caused climate change was at the highest point since the polls began.
Changes around the COC Valencia campus are also indicative of this shift in public opinion. In the men’s restrooms, waterless urinals have been installed as well as air dryers to avoid the use of paper towels.
Food from the cafeteria that will not be eaten is used to make compost rather than simply being thrown out.
The parking pass dispensers in most lots on campus run on solar power.
“One of the biggest pushbacks is the cost of implementing things,” explains Oliver. “Often we are replacing tried and true equipment with technology or systems that aren’t as entrenched so they aren’t as supported/familiar. That also means there is training involved, like teaching staff to replace the filters on the water bottle fillers.”
However, not all of these innovations are particularly effective, such as the air dryers in most school restrooms.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that jet air dryers spread 60 times and 1,300 times as many virus plaques (groups of virus cells) across the room than warm air dryers and paper towels respectively.
The jet air dryers used in the study were simply older versions of the dryers currently installed across the Valencia campus. Oliver also points out that these dryers use excessive amounts of electricity.
When people are hesitant to support climate change, they often point to policies like these, where environmental efforts are costly, counterproductive, or the cause of some unforeseen catch. Oliver says that is misguided.
“I think there is an apathy, but it’s about people’s general maturity and awareness of the world. As you get older you realize you affect the world.” He says this more with the tone of an individual attempting to reason with another rather than a professor instructing a student.
“We’re all driving single use automobiles, we all use fossil fuels. I think it’s up to us as educators to expose students to different ways of thinking.”
Student groups have also made significant strides in attempting to create environmentally conscious changes.
Hands on Earth, a student club on campus which advocates for minimizing ecological footprints, coordinated with the organizers of the annual Makerspace Festival to end the practice of handing out plastic water bottles.
Instead, the estimated 2,500 guests at the festival were offered biodegradable, disposable cups and water stations were placed around the campus. After the festival ended, once all the cups were collected, Hands on Earth members cut up the cups and put the pieces into compost.
“When you understand what is suffering on this plant and the rapid decrease in biodiversity, when you understand our relationship and dependency on nature, how could you not [care]?” says Jeannie Chari, an environmental science professor on campus as well as the advisor for Hands on Earth.
According to Chari, one Hands on Earth member apparently worked with the school’s volleyball team to ensure that no disposable plastic was used during practice, though that has yet to be independently verified.
Several other students are reportedly working on getting students to adopt reusable straws.
Although the group is advocating for many different changes, Hands on Earth primarily services the environment through recycling efforts, class presentations on recycling, trash clean ups, and river cleaning projects.
“It’s kind of like if you know somebody who is amazing and makes everybody feel good, why would you not introduce everybody to that person?” says Chari. Although she is an environmental science professor and must discuss this on a daily basis, she still seems genuinely excited to talk about nature.
Several members of the group would even like to see the campus eliminate all waste sent to landfills or incinerators in a decade.
Chari agrees that this is a valuable goal, but doubts it’s probability within the timeframe.
“I feel like the people who make these decisions have their hands tied because they feel pressure to put economics first. Until we can all agree that this is the priority, it’s going to be hard to do,” said the educator.
However, the time when we all agree on environmental policy is most likely very far away. A Gallup poll conducted in 2018, similar to the aforementioned 2017 poll, had similar numbers but there was a wider partisan divide. Democrats are slightly more likely to have great concerns over climate change and believe that climate change will create dangers in our lifetime.
In contrast, independents and republicans have seen drops in the number of climate change believers.
“I think that questioning is good, sometimes we can get lulled into a false sense of confidence about the way we pursue issues and having ppl question it then we can improve our efforts” said Oliver, when asked about climate change skeptics. “The ppl that are leading the sustainability efforts need to work harder on their marketing of it, It’s often more about the delivery than the raw data,” he reasons.
Oliver goes on to explain that science intimidates people and that the presentation should be more accessible to the general public.
Though it may be a long time before the country has a unified view on how much of a priority climate change is, COC seems to be constantly prodding at the gray area that covers what is possible and practical.