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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Recyclemania an uphill battle

    A long-standing UA tradition began in conjunction with the new semester Jan. 23: Recyclemania, a competition in which residence halls vie with one another to be the least wasteful.

    This past week, another time-honored tradition continued, too: the tradition of dishonesty and outright lies from officials in Washington.

    The New York Times reported Jan. 24 the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen L. Johnson, defended his refusal to permit the state of California to set limits on automobile emissions before a Senate committee. Johnson argued that climate change did not pose a “”compelling and extraordinary”” risk to California, despite ample evidence of wildlife loss found in documents from the EPA itself, as well as the strident objections of California Senator Barbara Boxer and myriad environmental organizations.

    There’s a curious juxtaposition in American culture right now, in which citizens are becoming more aware of their own carbon footprints while officials like Johnson routinely work to dismantle environmental policy.

    On our own campus, Recyclemania forces students to become at least marginally more attuned to the amount of waste produced at the UA. Liz Zavodsky, Coordinator of Sustainability Education for Residence Life at the UA, is optimistic about future efforts by the program to expand beyond campus. “”I think we will begin to tackle larger issues in the near future, however, right now we are really focusing on the residence halls and what we can provide for the students there,”” she said.

    Recyclemania also offers opportunities for students to become involved in long-term conservation efforts, either by helping with future competitions or by becoming an “”Eco Rep”” and doing volunteer work year-round. The trouble is, without a government willing to respond to environmental concerns, individual conservation efforts are like trying to repair a leak in a boat using tissue paper. Issues like global warming and sustainability are too large to tackle without federal – even global – aid, and it’s unacceptable for the American government to disregard environmental concerns.

    In 2003, the Bush administration retooled the Clean Air Act to allow industrial facilities to continue operating without updating the equipment they use to reduce emissions. This revision came a year after the president made a speech in Silver Spring, Md., calling for “”Clean Skies legislation”” that would allow the country to “”foster economic growth in ways that protect the environment.”” Administrative doublespeak about the environment has characterized almost all of Bush’s tenure in office, culminating in Stephen Johnson denying being pressured by the White House to act as he did, even though documents from his own agency clearly forecasted the risk posed by emissions to California’s ecosystems.

    Citizens ought to hold their government at least as responsible for promoting sustainability as they hold themselves. Zavodsky notes that each year students become more interested in environmental issues through Recyclemania and many “”have continued on with our program over the years.”” But even less invested students should take a greater interest in the way the government handles environmental policy, and the hypocrisy therein. Stephen L. Johnson, and the Bush administration as a whole, should be held accountable for demolishing environmental protections, and as long as citizens rely chiefly upon themselves to be more environmentally friendly, this kind of deceptive policy-making will continue.

    It’s difficult to focus on the Bush administration at all lately, and easy to view the current president as a lame duck crippled by the 2008 race. Officials such as Johnson, however, have not served the public when it comes to issues of preservation and sustainability, and their actions ought to have political consequences.

    Recyclemania should serve as a beginning rather than an end in itself, a chance for self-improvement and a greater commitment to environmental activism. This spring, students should take the opportunity to make themselves more aware of environmental policy outside the confines of their residence halls. It seems like a tall order in this current age of incompetence, but perhaps our leaders will be more compelled to act if there are more eyes focused on their conduct in the future. Without their support, future environmental efforts with continue to be an uphill battle.

    Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

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