Earth week events aim to raise eco-awareness

By Rachel Cromidas

Students who watched television in the ’90s already know that the powers of “earth,” “fire,” “wind,” “water,” and “heart” combine to create the popular superhero Captain Planet. But next week these elements will also come together to provide the theme for the University of Chicago’s Earth Week 2008.

This year’s Earth Week celebration, running from April 21 to April 25, will feature keynote addresses by Law School Professor Cass Sunstein, who will speak on the environment and the law, and Illinois farmer Jim Braun, who works with the Illinois Farmer Consumer Coalition to promote consumption of locally grown foods.

Each day of events will end with a Captain Planet study break in Hutchinson Commons, said event coordinator Rebecca Maurer, who sits on the campus Sustainability Council and is Earth Week’s chief organizer.

Maurer said the Earth Week activities will be a collaborative effort between Green Campus Initiative, the Sustainability Council, and several other campus organizations. For example, on Monday the Civic Knowledge Project is hosting a “tree-in”—a walking environmental tour. In addition, the Ryerson Astronomical Society is holding a tour of the quads to discuss light pollution, followed by a nighttime observational period from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

“There’s something tailored to almost every environmental concern,” Maurer said. She recommended that students interested in examining the environmental impacts of their lifestyles attend Wednesday’s Greening Your Apartment workshop from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Bartlett Trophy Room.

Another highlight of Earth Week will be the Vermiculture workshop, sponsored by the UnCommon Fund. Vermiculture uses red worms placed in a small household bin to break down organic waste.

“The worm excrements create nitrogen-rich soil which is good for gardening,” said Zoé Van Gelder, co-chair of the Sustainability Council. The vermiculture by-products are “really important for urban agriculture because soil quality in cities and land availability is not high. And it’s the only way I’m familiar with that you can compost year-round in an apartment,” she said.

Van Gelder is asking workshop participants to contribute to a vermiculture blog and find a means of taking care of the worms over the summer. The Uncommon Fund has provided enough money for 60 worm bins, and according to Van Gelder, the workshop has already reached its capacity.

Fortunately, because the worms reproduce approximately every four months, Van Gelder said students who want worms can in the future connect with students who receive them through the workshop.

“I think it has the potential to really connect our community,” she said. “Ideally, we will have Hyde Park full of worm bins.”

Maurer suspects Earth Week will come into full bloom on Friday, when over 20 environmentally conscious organizations will set up tents on the main quad to provide information to students. The Green-Fest will feature live music and free organic food.

“I would really encourage people to take this week to turn their attention to something that doesn’t get a lot of focus on this campus,” Maurer said. “People do care…but I’m not sure if they know how to enact those sentiments. [Earth Week] is about not just what you can do with your lifestyle and your apartment, but about local and global issues as well.”

A full schedule of Earth Week events can be found at