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Earth Day 2011 heralds the dawn of a new era

Help Wanted! Plymouth State University Chemistry Professor Jeremiah Duncan and his faithful companion, Duncan, challenge all of us to pitch in for the Plymouth Pickup Palooza. Duncan and Dylan have been walking the streets of Plymouth everyday for six weeks, picking up trash along the way. They have accumulated an impressive pile of, mostly recyclables, to deal with responsibly. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
April 27, 2011
PLYMOUTH—Since Earth Day 2010, the dual environmental disasters of the Gulf Oil Spill and the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear tragedy have cast a dark shadow over our hopes and dreams for an environmentally sustainable future.

Given the magnitude of these threats to the Earth, it would be understandable if young people became overwhelmed, cynical, or defeatist.

But that is not what is happening at Plymouth State University.

Instead, thanks to devoted faculty and staff guidance and the ever-resilient optimism of youth, Plymouth State students are taking a leadership role in forging pathways to a sustainable future, by focusing on what each and every one of us can do to make a difference for Planet Earth.

Plymouth State University Chemistry Professor Jeremiah Duncan personifies the dedication that so many PSU faculty and staff feel about their responsibility to educate and motivate environmentally conscious and committed leaders of the future.

Students from the Plymouth State University environmental organization Common Ground creatively demonstrate the impact each one of us can make if we forego paper, plastic or Styrofoam cups and employ reusable mugs for our morning coffee instead. It's simple! Pictured, with the impressive architectural “archway to a sustainable future,” constructed entirely from disposable coffee cups they found littered about Plymouth, are Kent Dunlevy, Lawrence Thompson, Becky Brown, and Liz Kelly make a powerful statement. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
For the last six weeks, Duncan and his four footed "best friend" Dylan have been walking the streets of Plymouth cleaning up the litter and trash that has accumulated under the drifts of snow throughout the winter. Now, he is challenging PSU faculty, staff and Plymouth community residents to join him in what he calls the Plymouth Pickup Palooza.

"The challenge is this," says Duncan. "If I can do this every day for six weeks, everyone else can volunteer to do this just once. By the end of the semester, we will have really cleaned up the Town."

Duncan admits that clearly, there are students, and Plymouth community members, who can benefit from the consciousness raising that Earth Day is designed to provide.

"If, at the end of four years, our students graduate and this is what they are doing, then to some degree we are failing them in their education," says Duncan, pointing to the 117.5 pounds of mostly recyclable trash he has collected from the streets of Plymouth over the past six weeks.

Plymouth State University Environmental Science and Policy student and certified Permaculturist Stephanie Aubert (right), and Eco-House residents, Molly Garvey (left) and Niles Motyl-Szary put their education into action, implementing a sustainable, permaculture landscape design plan by Aubert on the grounds of the Eco-House dorm on campus. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
PSU's Director of Sustainability, Brian Eisenhauer, has no intention of letting that happen. The Associate Professor of Sociology and Interim Director of the Center for the Environment has helped empower students to make a difference on campus. He says that PSU has a very effective, centralized on-campus recycling system. They also do composting of campus trash. Physical Plant coordinates the entire process, and PSU does extensive tracking to come to a very deep understanding of how the university is doing as a community, recycling in the dorms and cafeteria.

PSU places consistently amongst the top campus participants in the nationwide "Recycle Mania" competition. This year, PSU placed 22nd out of 180 schools and colleges in its class for waste minimization and recycling performance, and placed first in all of New Hampshire.

Eisenhauer says PSU does better and better in this competition every year.

The student organization Common Ground is doing its part, as well. Under the expert guidance of PSU's Gary McCool, Common Ground students are taking the lead at educating and inspiring their fellow students to make a difference.

On Earth Day, out on the quad in front of the Hartmann Union Building on campus, Common Ground students were showing off their environmentally responsible selves in many creative and productive ways. In addition to going out on neighborhood cleanup sorties through the streets of Plymouth, they were attracting the attention of fellow students with a host of informational exhibits and informative presentations.

But perhaps the most exciting educational/practical work going on at PSU is taking place at the EcoHouse, located just off the Traffic Circle on Main Street in Plymouth. Currently, as many as nine environmentally expert PSU students reside in the dorm, which doubles as an office and classroom for environmental organizations and classes on campus.

On Earth Day, students coordinated by Environmental Science and Policy student Stephanie Aubert were hard at work on the landscape immediately surrounding EcoHouse.

Aubert is one of the many students and local community members who has recently become certified in Permaculture, a form of eco-sustainable landscaping. She has succeeded in assembling "critical mass" in terms of volunteer labor, materials and financial resources to begin the process of bringing her original, innovative ecological landscape design to life on the grounds of EcoHouse. It's a labor of love.

The demonstration project grew out of the coursework she completed as part of her Permaculture certification process, but the plan has taken off in recent months, with PSU staff, faculty and fellow students joining in on the fun — digging in, literally, to make the design a reality.

A three-stage composting project is underway in one corner of the lot. Raised beds for a vegetable garden, annuals and herbs are planned in a sunny spot with southern exposure right outside the kitchen door. A Peace and Justice Garden of perennials is also part of the plan.

This past Friday, Eco-House students were hauling stones to construct a terraced corner garden at EcoHouse, specially designed to improve drainage, solve erosion problems, provide welcoming granite steps for a pathway through the landscape, and provide growing space for plants that are carefully chosen for the site to improve soil conditions, produce food, pollination, visual pleasure and other important environmental objectives. Stay tuned to the pages of the Record Enterprise for updates as the project continues to evolve.

Aubert says that her deep commitment to ecological landscaping stems from an "epiphany" she had several years ago, when she was an interior design student in Charlotte, N.C. One day, she decided to go for a walk. She found only paved paths in a parkway that included a stroll past industrial buildings for her intended "nature walk."

"That's when I realized how lucky we are to have what we have here in New Hampshire," said Aubert. "I decided I wanted to come home to New Hampshire and help to preserve and protect what is so valuable in our environment."

North Country Environmental
Martin Lord Osman
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