Go Green! Takes on New Meaning

Joy Sawyer Mulligan
The enormous sidewalk-chalk footprints here and there on campus meant. . . What, exactly?
The enormous sidewalk-chalk footprints here and there on campus meant. . . What, exactly?

Clarity tromped into Assembly on big cardboard slabs taped to the feet of Will Oberndorf when, a few days before the School’s annual Departmental Weekend, he and Ultimate Civics classmate Griffin Triplett entered, stage left, to spread the word: Thacher’s carbon footprint could shrink by several sizes if everyone changed a heavy-footed habit or two.

The message was one of several broadcasted powerfully during Sustainability Weekend—brainchild of Thacher’s Science Department (Chair Chris Vyhnal, David Harris, Brian Pidduck, Alice Meyer, Peter Sawyer, Heather Grant, and Anacapa Fellow Riki Ott) and other faculty presently focused on this issue (Bo Manson, Toby Elmore, Jake Jacobsen, and Kurt Meyer). From just after the end of classes on Friday through Sunday morning, via film, lecture, discussion, and hands-on activities, the whole community had the chance to look both inward to our own practices and their consequences, small to large, and outward to problems and solutions that others have developed elsewhere.

Dylan Coleman CdeP 1993 of Wonderwater, designers, creators and installers of rain catchment systems, and his wife Kelly, Executive Director of Save the Rain, gave Friday’s keynote address on “The Global Water Crisis:  The Path from Scarcity to Abundance through Harvesting Rain,” demonstrating that looking up for answers is one way to go—and they didn’t mean just praying. “When two-thirds of the people in the world go through their days without appropriate access to water, something’s got to change,” Kelly said, as preface to an explanation of how one of the twelve projects that Save the Rain completed in South Africa has positively impacted health and mortality rates and educational opportunities (especially for girls) there.  “Rain catchment is ancient virtue and an ancient technology with huge potential in our present for solving the problems we have right where they occur,” Dylan went on to say. And when a student asked, “What can we do?” he added, “We don’t have to settle for the glass half-full—it can be overflowing. You students have been given a great head start by being educated here at Thacher. With the power of intention, you can do anything you want. When the moment comes and you’re asked to stand for something, do it. Stand and say, ‘This is not tolerable.’ Be relentless.”

On Friday night and all day Saturday, students and faculty joined in non-stop activities: watching documentaries (four films that collectively tell a story about creating a livable planet based on local living economies and self-reliant communities); hearing about current trends in the environmental movement, about small-scale farming practices, or about water quality testing protocols; learning hands-on how solar hydrogen power trumps electricity in efficiency; debating Thacher’s challenges and opportunities as global climate change forces new attitudes and lifestyles; beautifying the East End by picking up some “pretty amazing” trash (including one-and-a-half surfboards); assessing campus recycling and developing a plan for making recycling easier for everyone; and weeding and harvesting at two local organic farms that supply The Farmer and the Cook, a restaurant and shop in nearby Meiners Oaks.

Saturday sundown witnessed the start of Lights Out Thacher, where everyone on campus unplugged, powering down to minimal or no electricity use until sunrise the next morning. “Camping lite,” Peter Sawyer called it. “You still get to sleep in a bed!” After dinner, the crowd navigated by flashlight and headlamp to snuggle with blankets and pillows into the bouldery nooks of the Outdoor Theatre, where local treasure singer-songwriter-guitarist Jonathan McEuen rocked on in an energy-friendly concert made possible by the “Solar Roller,” a mobile power supply that had soaked up sunshine throughout the day. Post-performance, the firepits roaring at Lower School and Los Padres made for tasty s’mores and the kind of banter that only a campfire seems to engender.

The Bon Appetit crew did their fair (trade) share, too, providing on Friday an Eat Local! lunch and an Eat Sustainably! all-vegetarian supper, as well as a Plate/Utensils-Free Challenge dinner on Saturday: diners brought their own Sierra cups and mugs and piled lettuce-plates with food from the grill and smorgasbord.

A random sample at formal dinner the following week leaned heavily on “Awesome!” to describe various parts of the weekend. Stayed tuned for how that—plus “really cool!” and “sweet!”—translates  into lasting changes at CdeP.

Photography: Douglas Land CdeP 2008, Christopher Land, Peter Sawyer, Brian Pidduck CdeP 1992, Joy Sawyer-Mulligan


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