Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tree planting at Hull House with Nobel Peace Laureates

Farmer Ryan from Hull House plants tree. Jodi Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate is in deep conversation.
Happy Earth day. Today we connect two women, environmentalists, social activists, and nobel peace laureates, whose histories span one and a half centuries. Jane Addams, born in 1860 in Illinois, understood the connectedness of our environment to health (as an investigator of sanitary conditions and milk supplies), as well as the importance of providing for basic human needs particularly for women - housing, food, and opportunity to support oneself. Her work here, at Hull House, connected people to the sources of food and worked to improve women’s social and physical health. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her aspiration to rid the world of war, as communicated by her teaching, writing, and public speaking.

Five years after Jane's death in 1935, Wangari Mathai was born in Kenya. She studied science. In 1976, while she served in the National Council of Women she introduced the idea of planting trees with help of the people and continued to develop this concept into a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women's groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life. Further, through the Green Belt Movement she assisted women in Africa to plant more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds. This idea of a Pan African Green Belt Network expanded the movement in 1986. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace".

Dr. Mathai passed away this past fall, shortly before the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education where she was scheduled to speak (and me to hear her). Only now as I have come to learn about her work do I truly understand what I and the attendees missed out on. This organization provides resources to universities to advance sustainability initiatives on their campuses because of the need to educate our future work force including scientists, policy makers, and health care workers about the interconnectedness of the environment with social welfare, economic viability and intergenerational equity. This cannot be successfully accomplished if we do not lead by example.

We, too, at UIC are striving to integrate sustainability into everything we do from operations, to research, to education, to community service and global learning. The work of Jane Addams Hull House through programming like Rethinking Soup and the heirloom farm has made these ideals into reality, just as Jane Addams and Wangari Mathai did in their lives. A few buildings from here we can see what a sustainable campus can look like at the complex of Grant, Lincoln and Douglas Halls - heated and cooled by ground source heat pumps and powered by solar panels on the roof tops and conserving water through their water saving fixtures and landscaping and much more. In the past four years, we have doubled our recycling rates, developed and begun to implement a climate action plan and reduced our energy consumption. We also have developed an urban forestry plan for our campus, conducted community education and engagement, earning Tree Campus USA recognition and receiving a donation of 40 trees from the Arbor Day Foundation that were planted 10 days ago by nearly 100 volunteers. This coming year we will engage our campus community further in thinking about what sustainability means in the broadest sense. These women understood it for themselves, for their communities, and for the entire planet.

Laura Ramirez, PhD Candidate, Education adds soil
Today, on the 41st Earth Day, we are planting one of the Arbor Day trees, a service berry, to provide service and shade, to sequester carbon dioxide and to give sustenance and in memory of Wangari Mathai and her ability to see and manifest the connection of human fate with the viability of the planet and peace.

Earth Day, April 22, 2012
Cynthia Klein-Banai Associate Chancellor for Sustainability

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