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Earth Day at 50: A Conversation with Michael B. Alexander

April 23, 2020

President Michael B. Alexander on Zoom for Earth DayPresident Michael B. Alexander held a virtual community discussion on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, at which he shared memories of his experience as a college student at the first celebration in 1970.

Hosted by the RoseMary B. Fuss Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) and moderated by Jesse Tauriac, assistant vice president and chief diversity officer, the conversation incorporated personal anecdotes about Earth Day celebrations of years past and explored the progress and regression that environmentalism has seen in the last 50 years.

Of the first Earth Day, President Alexander recalled a joyous moment in the midst of a "fraught time." "It was a time of protest. Just a week prior to our celebration of Earth Day on Cambridge Common, there was a peace demonstration that became a full-blown riot," he recalled. "People were injured. It was a seminal moment in my life. To see a peaceful gathering take place a week later on April 22, 1970 filled with food, music, poetry readings, speeches ... it was big."

He noted that in 1970, the focus of Earth Day and environmentalism was largely on population growth and air and water pollution. "We didn't know about climate change or global warming and those definitely weren't the words used," he noted.

University Archivist Adam Schutzman joined the conversation to share information about Lasell's participation in the 1970 celebrations. "There was a massive student-led campus cleanup that extended to the Charles River. And, they did a fundraising initiative to plant trees," he said. "A green and white flag was raised on the campus flagpole to share awareness of the situation."

President Alexander and Wayne Lamoureux, director of Lasell's facilities and sustainability management division, spoke about positive changes that have been made at the University. Single-stream recycling, irrigated pest management versus chemical pesticides, LED light conversions, and reductions in electricity, water, and gas have all made an impact on reducing Lasell's carbon footprint.

In 2008, President Alexander signed the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment and agreed to reduce Lasell's carbon footprint by 80 percent by 2050.  

"Over time, there is no question that we will wean our way off of fossil fuels and move to almost all renewable energy," he said. "We have to keep our eyes open for opportunities to take big steps."  

In a look to the future, President Alexander cited the current pandemic as an example of what could happen if the world remains unprepared to address environmental issues.

"This very moment is a lesson in what things could be like if we didn't emit so many pollutants into the environment," he said.

"Having seen what is possible, I hope that it makes a climate change solution seem more tangible. We need to be more prepared, which is a lesson that this pandemic has taught us."