Courtesy photoFrom holiday parties to shopping, the holidays tend to be a season of consumption for most Americans. One Salem State University class, however, has pledged to give the planet a Christmas present by cutting their carbon dioxide emissions by 50,000 pounds before Christmas.
So far Lynn Fletcher’s biology class has combined to save 28,000 pounds of carbon dioxide by taking shorter showers, watching less television and turning off lights when they leave a room to name a few carbon cutting strategies..
“It’s our way of giving back to the planet and we are getting a lot of people involved,” the associate professor said.
While planning her Thanksgiving trip to Seattle to visit her sister, Fletcher thought about ways to offset the carbon emissions from her cross-country flight as well as how to engage her students in a section of her class on human impacts on the planet, “which can be quite depressing and daunting,” she said.
That’s when she came up with the idea for an assignment that is worth about five percent of her students’ grades. Since last month, the 43 students in Fletcher’s Human Sociology of Biology class have been finding ways to cut their carbon emissions in their everyday lives and calculating how many pounds of CO2 they are saving on a weekly basis.
“You can buy [carbon] offsets for travel but a lot of students don’t have the money to purchase offsets,” Fletcher, 35, said. “I researched online how much carbon is emitted from activities so we can change our behavior and do offsets that way.”
One student started biking to the gym and using less workout machines once she got there. Another student convinced his family not to use plastic plates at Thanksgiving and instead volunteered to wash the dishes. And another student said she has spent more quality time with her mother because they both agreed to watch less TV.
“They have been really creative and inspiring,” Fletcher said.
Others are using a crockpots to cook instead of the oven or drying clothes on a line instead of in a dryer.
“One hour in a dryer equals 27.4 pounds of C02,” Fletcher said. “In three loads of laundry you can emit more [carbon dioxide] than a tree can take in in 10 years. So every little bit counts.”
Sophomore Sarah Frazier, 20, of Barnstable said the assignment made her want to change her major from psychology to environmental ethics.
“It put me on a new path,” she said. “I was going into this class not knowing what I wanted to be. I always knew I cared about the environment and nature, and this class inspired me to find a path for what I want to do and make a change in my life and help other people make changes in their lives because it’s not hard at all.
“I realized how I can make little changes in my life that can make a huge difference in the long run.”
Fletcher, who has saved about 500 pound of carbon so far, said the biggest change she’s made is taking the commuter rail to Boston instead of driving.
“I realized that saves like 200 pounds of carbon,” she said. “Lots of little things can make a difference.”
Freshman Amber Fernandez, 18, of Salem said she’s always wanted to reduce her carbon footprint but didn’t even know how to get started until she got this assignment.
“I’m all for saving the planet considering I live on it,” she said. “I was excited to actually have guidelines of what to do. That’s the main reason I was excited. Without guidelines I didn’t know what to do or how to start.
“Going throughout doing the project, it kind of becomes second nature.”
Fernandez convinced her mother not to keep air conditioning units in the windows year round and to open windows instead of using fans. She also started biking and walking more. She has reduced her carbon footprint by 300 pounds in the last two weeks, she said.
“Seeing the numbers helped a lot,” she said. “To be able to look at something solid helps with the realization that I am helping, I am doing this, it’s for the better. It opens a lot more people’s eyes. iI people just knew the numbers they’d be more aware, that’s what helped me a lot, just looking at it.
“When she gave us this project ‘saving carbon for Christmas I thought ‘that’s a great idea.’ You always think about how to give back; usually you give money to a charity you believe in. This is giving back for everyone in the world so you never think you can help so many people at once.”
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.