Earth Day festivities at Rockhurst, supporting the surrounding community


Wyatt Walker, Reporter

In the early 1960s, environmental preservation was an idea that rarely crossed people’s minds. Laws protecting our lands, water, wildlife and limiting pollution were hard to find in any federal or state document and overall, there were limited efforts made to care for the planet. Now, just about 60 years later, with improved environmental legislation, every April 22 over 1 billion people around the world celebrate Earth Day, including the students here at Rockhurst University.

Rockhurst kicked off Earth Day festivities early by tabling in Massman Hall for RU-Green Earth Week. Students were encouraged to sign petitions that would directly impact the environment. The first petition was signed in favor of shutting down Evergy’s coal-fired power plant here in Kansas City. When coal is burned, various toxins and pollutants contaminate the air that all forms of life need to survive. Air pollution from coal-fired power plants is directly linked with cancer, asthma, neurological issues, heart and lung problems, global warming, acid rain and other severe health and environmental impacts.

Bill Kriege, campus minister and leader of Rockhurst’s Earth Day activities, shared that in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, he stated, “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

The second petition students were able to sign supported the idea of paying people back who return disposable bottles. Participants would receive a few cents per bottle they turn in. The hope is if people can get paid for their bottles, then fewer will end up on the streets or in water as litter.

In addition, a group of Rockhurst students spent part of their day helping plant trees around campus. RU-green paid for and planted two trees, a Kentucky Coffee Tree, and a Princeton American Elm just east of Troost.

The trees were planted in previously unshaded areas. Unshaded areas contribute to heat islands, which are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than surrounding areas due to human activities. In the summer, these heat islands are incredibly dangerous and even fatal in some cases, especially in an urban like Kansas City. The trees students planted should provide some shade cover for those who are not fortunate enough to easily escape the brutal summer sun.

“It is powerful for me to see students claim this neighborhood as their neighborhood, as opposed to simply a place where they temporarily stay for four years,” Kriege said, “Since 2012, I’ve planted 27 trees in the neighborhood with students. That’s literally a small forest. The trees are different varieties, so the students have added shade, oxygen, and tree diversity to this neighborhood.”

While the efforts made by Rockhurst students are directly improving the environment today, credit can go to Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson for making this possible. Nelson is the founder of Earth Day and is known for his great endeavors in increasing the awareness of environmental issues all around the world.

In September of 1969, Nelson proposed an idea for the following spring of 1970 that Americans come together for a day of environmental education. Nelson’s idea was received very well, and quickly garnered support from the masses. This event on April 22, 1970, is what is known as the first Earth Day. Americans from all over the country took to the streets, and peacefully demonstrated their care for the planet and is why we still celebrate today.

An integral part of Nelson’s efforts was involving college students. He was intrigued by America’s lectures at the time, mostly on college campuses, about the Vietnam war and their ability to get people passionate about the subject. Nelson hypothesized that the same could be done about a topic he was passionate about, protecting the environment, and he encouraged similar lectures to be held.

That idea has continued to college campuses today as the environment is hot topic all across the nation. Last Friday on our very own campus, an environmental sustainability symposium was held featuring five different student leader speakers who shared their solutions to help protect the environment. The same group then picked up trash in local neighborhoods the next day on Earth Day.

In addition, Senator Nelson’s ideas help propel change in environmental legislation and laws. He authored legislation to implement a national hiking trails system and sponsored several pieces of environmental legislation, including the Wilderness Act. He is credited with being the driving force in establishing laws such as the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Water Quality Improvement Act

Though Nelson passed in 2005, his legacy lives on as we still celebrate earth day every year on April 22. However, it is important to remember that we can be environmentally sustainable every day. A few simple ways that you can help in your daily life are using re-usable water bottles and avoiding single use plastic water bottles, purchasing beverages in aluminum cans as they are easily recyclable and using cold water when washing and rinsing your laundry to reduce energy consumption.