Earth Day is April 22 and Notre Dame student-environmentalists are helping to create a sustainable future.
Almost a six years to the day after the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, NDPMA students welcome Earth Day once again with a vow to help make their world a better place for themselves and for generations to come.
It was on April 20, 2010, two days before the world celebrated Earth Day, that a massive explosion on an offshore oil-drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and sparked a huge fire that eventually sank the rig. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the gulf over the next 87 days, killing thousands of marine animals and affecting thousands of people in the fishing and tourist industry—already struggling in an economic downturn.
This year, as Earth Day passes on April 22, the state of Michigan is reeling from its own human and environmental tragedy. The people of Flint, Mich., continue to struggle to recover from what for them has been the worst environmental disaster they’ve ever experienced—the contamination of their water supply two years ago after lead was introduced into pipes as a result of a switch to a different water source.
Marists and the Catholic Church on the environment
The Marist Fathers and Brothers, who sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program, also are increasingly alarmed by the current and developing conditions of the natural world and its resources.
“There is a clear relationship between ecology and wellness, and a breach in our planet's health yields devastating implications for all human life and dignity,” reads a passage on environmental stewardship currently posted to the Marists’ website. “We are passionate in our pursuit for a fair and sustainable world, for circumspect and responsible use of the earth's resources, and for addressing the disparity between desperate poverty and excess consumption.
“The Marists serve collaboratively to be agents of change, affecting a shift in thought and action, changing mindsets to adopt a more informed, responsible and mindful way to utilize our shared but limited natural resources.”
And in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato si’,” released in June of last year, Pope Francis warned of 'serious consequences' if the world does not act on climate change. Francis predicted an "unprecedented destruction of ecosystems" and “serious consequences for all of us,” if humanity fails to act on climate change. His encyclical was published June 18, 2015, by the Vatican.
Environmental Club encourages stewardship
Students at Notre Dame join with Pope Francis, the Marists and other world citizens in expressing concern over issues like the Gulf oil spill in 2010 and the Flint water crisis in 2016 as well as the state of the world’s environment in general. But for around 30 freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors at Notre Dame, environmental stewardship is more than just a topic for discussion in a classroom. They are active members of the school’s Environmental Club.
Formed in 2001, the Environmental Club (or e-club) was created at NDP to raise awareness among the student body of how the small differences they make in their everyday lives can make a big impact in conserving resources and protecting the environment.
One former Notre Dame student, Marty Opthoff, who served as president of the club, says the best thing any student can do is to spread awareness of green practices. “Simple things add up and really do make a difference,” he said. “When we all work as a community, we see big results.”
According to club moderator Michelle Garcia, a math teacher in the upper division, e-club members try to accomplish environmental stewardship by recycling paper and plastic throughout the entire school and by sharing vital information with all students through announcements, regular meetings and newsletters.
“In addition to educating others about the environment, we try to show the members of our club and other students how they can do more,” said Garcia, who has been on the faculty of Notre Dame for 12 years. ”We participate in Adopt-A-Highway to clean up Giddings Road, we visit organic farms to help plant trees, and we even visit a “green” convent to see how the nuns there practice environmental sustainability.
“Also, we’ve helped to pick vegetables and assisted in a year-end cleanup of a local organic farm that donates food to the needy,” she added. “It was a good experience for the kids. Additionally, I’ve looked into doing special activities for our club with the Clinton River Watershed.”
Garcia also noted that the entire Notre Dame community pitched in recently by collecting and delivering dozens of cases of desperately needed bottled water to the people of Flint.
Sustainability also is a big part of what Notre Dame’ e-club does.
“We recycle every week,” says Garcia. “Sustainability refers to lowering your carbon footprint, basically, by using less of the fossil fuels we have available. This is done in many ways, but I would say the NDP e-club focuses on sustainability through our recycling and environmental cleanup efforts and by promoting general awareness among students.”
Garcia noted that each member of the club is very selfless in that cleaning up after other people is not always all that enjoyable. “These kids do it because they care and because they know how important it is to take responsibility for the beautiful earth God gave us.”
Opthoff, who went on to attend Michigan State University, believes he and the other students in the Environmental Club really did make a difference in how the school as a whole feels about its environmental responsibility. “Just by encouraging my friends to change their habits, this school is a much greener place.”
At a minimum, Environmental Club members are required to attend two meetings per month and to help with recycling duties at least six times per semester.
Garcia says that keeping young people today focused on the environment is as important as ever. And that fits perfectly with NDPMA’s mission of forming “upright citizens.”
“I’ve always seen the earth as a gift from God,” Garcia said. “If we don’t take care of it, we are insulting Him.” She says that if we are teaching our students to be upright citizens, “we must also teach them to be responsible for caring for the planet’s water and air that is so precious to us.”
Pressing environmental issues
In an article published a few years ago by CNN.com, Michael Vandenbergh, who is director of the Climate Change Research Network, says he hopes people keep on pressing environmental issues as they recognize each Earth Day.
“We have to continue to discuss climate change, because if we get that problem wrong, many of the other things we talk about in the environmental area won’t matter,” said Vandenbergh, who also teaches at Vanderbilt University Law School.
For Garcia, she sees the world’s dependency on oil as an urgent environmental issue today. “There seem to be so many other ways to create an energy source and so few of them are being utilized,” she said. “I don’t just mean for cars, but for heating buildings, for manufacturing processes, etc.”
Vandenbergh is encouraged to see that his students—“although probably not as politically outspoken as their counterparts when Earth Day began in 1970”—are anxious to learn as much as they can about being environmentally friendly.
Everyone should realize the importance of doing his or her part to help improve the environment for future generations, Vandenbergh said.
Garcia and student members of NDP’s Environmental Club would certainly concur.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.