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November 1996
The Path of Conservation

By Ying Wu


In the eighth grade, I went on a four-day school trip to the Pocono Environment Education Center. When I heard that we were to spend most of our time hiking, I thought to myself, "Why would anyone want to walk around in a forest for hours?!" Having lived in a city for all of my life, I've never appreciated the beauty of nature because nature in Brooklyn is often not exactly pretty. Plastic bags take the place of leaves on trees, litter covers the sidewalks and clogs the gutters, and I hold my breath when buses go by.

On the first hike, my teacher showed our group the effects of glacial erosion, and we even found some fossils. We followed little animal footprints in the ground, and observed the constellations at night. I loved the forests we explored, the clean air we breathed, the great variety of animals and insects, the majestic waterfalls and the clear streams. I was jealous of the Native Americans because for them, what I fell in love with was not just their "natural world," it was "the world."

Coming from a cement-covered city, I had no feelings for the nature being sacrificed for human progress until that trip. That unforgettable trip inspired me to read books in order to learn more about environmental concerns. I was shocked to read that air pollution leads to the death of 120,000 Americans every year and that children brought up in polluted areas suffer reductions of 10-15% in lung capacity for the rest of their lives. I was horrified by the effects of contaminated drinking water. One particularly scary incident took place in Woburn, Massachusetts, where 19 children died because they drank water from their communities' polluted wells; the Environmental Protection Agency has found more than 700 pollutants in U.S. drinking water. Agricultural pesticides, fertilizers, animal wastes, mining operations, leaking garbage dumps, industrial and household chemicals, acid rain, sewage, and oil or chemical spills are constantly leaking into the rivers, streams and lakes that comprise the Earth's usable water.

Compelled to take action, I joined the Environmental Coalition of Stuyvesant (E.C.O.S.), Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (S.E.T.A.) and the Sierra Club's Land Preservation Committee and Solid Waste Committee. I also stopped eating meat because livestock are very significant contributors to water pollution, topsoil erosion, plant extinction and rainforest destruction, not to mention that they receive outrageously cruel treatment in the course of the mad scramble for profit.

I have met with many obstacles on this path of conservation. Many of my peers either don't care or don't believe that they are breathing harmful air and drinking poisonous water. They are not willing to walk even a few feet to throw cans into recycling bins. Others use the recycling bins as garbage cans. This apathy and reluctance is very frustrating. I think many of my peers feel that the extent of environmental destruction is beyond correction. Others are unaware of the environmental consequences of their actions.

I believe that informing students about the very real consequences of environmental neglect, and inspiring them to take active roles will jolt many of them out of this state of apathy. Communication through articles, editorials or meetings is the key to making others aware of their own responsibility for Earth's welfare. I have written editorials to my newspaper about the environmental damage created by incineration, which is the answer to unsuccessful recycling programs. As the Chairperson of the E.C.O.S., I was very proud of all that the Coalition accomplished in creating the Green Revolution, an environmental awareness campaign. E.C.O.S. established a schoolwide can, bottle and paper recycling program. In collaboration with Key Club, E.C.O.S. produced the first student-run assembly in the history of my high school. A key component of the Green Revolution, the assembly included a guest speaker from the Sierra Club and the "Tin Can Man," and encouraged students to take an active part in protecting the environment. E.C.O.S. convinced the school's administration to replace all paper used in the school with 100% recycled paper (50% post-consumer waste). There are plans for a composting program for food scraps from the cafeteria. In the community, E.C.O.S. members volunteer for the New York City Parks Department; we are involved in park cleanups at Battery Park, and we also volunteer at New York City's annual environmental festival, "EcoFest."

I hope that the schoolwide recycling program will encourage my peers to take active responsibility for the planet that we will soon inherit. The Special Education students get involved by painting and recycling boxes, and monitoring the amount of paper recycled. E.C.O.S. also sponsored a button design contest in search of the best button with an environmental message.
Toward the Future

I know for a fact that this type of communication has at least awakened many of my peers to the environmental movement. But unfortunately this does not mean that every student in my high school is now an environmentalist. I have friends who are completely indifferent to the extinction of species and the burning of rainforests. They are indifferent because they have not yet noticed the impact of environmental neglect on their lives. But the environment needs their support too, before the effects of pollution and destruction become both blatant and irreversible.

The abuse of the Earth is rapidly changing the natural environment. I believe that the Earth will adapt itself to this new environment, but I'm afraid that the new adaptation will be inhospitable to humankind. Perhaps like the dinosaurs who became extinct when the Earth changed its environment, humans will become extinct when the Earth changes itself according to the new environment that we create. It is up to each individual to climb out of the ditch of abuse and onto the path of conservation.

Ying Wu is now a freshman at New York University in the Bachelor of Arts, Doctor of Medicine program. For information on E.C.O.S. and S.E.T.A., contact: S.E.T.A., Stuyvesant High School, 345 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10282.


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