A week of sustainability focused events from the MSU

Last week, the McMaster Students Union held an online event series to encourage students to pay more attention to and recognize sustainability issues. From Oct. 25 to 30, McMaster Earth Week was a week of various sustainability-themed activities. 

This event was hosted by the MSU, but involved other campus and community organizations such as Nature at McMaster, the Student Sustainability Ambassadors Program, McMaster Veggie Club, McMaster Academic Sustainability Programs Office and Trees for Hamilton

Starting off the week, McMaster Veggie Club ran a meatless Monday event on their Instagram page. The club said meatless Monday is an event series that they will be hosting once a month. For the event, a representative from McMaster Veggie Club shared a meatless recipe via their Instagram story. This week, the recipe was a meatless chilli. 

On Tuesday, the MSU hosted a virtual tree planting event. This event was in collaboration with the SUSTAIN 3S03 Implementing Sustainable Change course’s solitary bees and tree planting student groups, as well as Facility Services.

As an experiential learning course, SUSTAIN 3S03 asked community members to pitch project ideas on the first night of class. The projects that they eventually work on are their focus for the rest of the semester. 

Callum Hales and Crystal Zhang are students of the Solitary Bees and Tree Planting student project groups respectively. Both Hales and Zhang’s groups collaborated on this event to increase the biodiversity of plant species and the number of solitary bees on campus. 

Unlike honey bees or bumble bees, solitary bees are not aggressive and they do not produce honey. However, they are excellent pollinators. Hales and Zhang’s student group works to educate the McMaster and Hamilton community about solitary bees as well as inspire initiatives such as this one.

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Following the initiation of the Solitary Bees Project in 2019, 50 bee boxes are now posted around the university campus. With this event, native plant species are planted around the posts and Hales and Zhang expressed that the plants can help to support the bees.

Last year, 80 trees were planted on McMaster Sustainability Day in October. This year, a total of 100 trees were planted. In addition to the student groups, the tree planting was facilitated by Trees for Hamilton, Nature at McMaster, and Facility Services.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the event could no longer encourage volunteers from the community to participate. Hence, the Grounds Department of Facility Services at McMaster handled the tree planting, while Abbie Little, community relations coordinator of the Academic Sustainability Programs Office, overlooked the event. 

Other events included a nature bingo game on Wednesday, an eating seasonally and locally talk on Thursday morning, a sustainable art night on Thursday night and an autumn earth hour on Friday. 

The nature bingo event asked participants to seek out specific items outdoors and complete a bingo card to be entered within a draw at the end of the week.

Thursday morning, in collaboration with McMaster Hospitality Services, Wellness and Sustainability Manager and Registered Dietitian, Liana Bontempo, shared a video about reasons why people should buy food locally. 

Bontempo noted that buying local foods can mean great variety, cheaper and fresher produce as well as the ability to support local farmers. 

Although not the first sustainability focussed initiative that McMaster has held, this is the first time the MSU is holding Earth Week. In planning for this event, Little said that the team considered how students are dealing with the pandemic.

“We know that 2020 has been a strange year and that it could be a tough time for students with midterms and adjusting to online school, so we wanted to encourage students to get outside, think about the food they eat, the nutrients they get, relax with some fun crafts and switch off their power, lights and laptop to conserve energy and unwind,” Little explained.

“We know that 2020 has been a strange year and that it could be a tough time for students with midterms and adjusting to online school, so we wanted to encourage students to get outside, think about the food they eat, the nutrients they get, relax with some fun crafts and switch off their power, lights and laptop to conserve energy and unwind,” Little explained.

Correction: Dec. 1, 2020

A previous version of this article wrote that SUSTAIN 3S03 course asked "students" to pitch project ideas, rather than "community members". This has now been fixed.

Correction: Nov. 23, 2020

A previous version of this article misstated the names of two participants. The article has now been corrected and The Silhouette regrets the error.

Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Saadia Shahid

On Feb. 27, the McMaster Students Union promoted its three-day education campaign “Compost at Mac” which highlighted several composting bins around campus. The campaign encouraged students to locate areas within the university where compost bins should be placed.

This was done in efforts to reduce the waste produced by students and also to promote composting.

Another table that I came across in the McMaster University Students Centre asked students to make pledges to limit their use of disposable items. I pledged to limit my use of plastic cutlery, but how feasible is that really?

As a student, making sustainable choices is difficult when there are plastic straws and cutlery distributed all over campus. It is hard to make the environmentally-conscious choice when those items are so easily accessible.

It is easy for the MSU to put up boards encouraging students to help combat climate change, but would it not make more sense for McMaster Hospitality Services to abolish the use of plastic cutlery and disposable items altogether? This would probably help reduce the carbon footprint of the entire university.

This may seem like a drastic change, but the ease lies in switching to more environmentally-friendly and sustainable options like steel cutlery and straws. Reusable mesh grocery bags should be also sold on campus to make it easier for students to adopt sustainable habits.

In making these changes, the MUSC eating area could be also revamped into a proper food court with steel cutlery and plates given out in La Piazza. Students can then return to these items to workers stationed at the food court.

A system like this is already implemented at plenty of malls with food courts and helps to reduce waste due to the availability of reusable cutlery. The cost may seem a little high, but it is not higher than the one we will have to pay due to the effects of climate change.

This initiative can start during Welcome Week with new students introduced to the green changes.  

Speaking from a student’s point of view, these changes would make things easier for us and also be more beneficial for the Earth. An institution equipped with the funding makes a bigger difference than opposed to individual students struggling to find sustainable alternatives.

The MSU has done a lot of things that students didn’t vote for, such as starting the composting initiative. They encourage us to follow along as it is a change for the better, but they must at least make it easier for students to adopt.


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Nazwa Warda Bintay Salim
The Silhouette

The earth is a very small planet when considering this whole milky galaxy as part of a gigantic universe. We, the homo sapiens, the best of creations supposedly by a god, or just through a natural process of selection, have never turned a deaf ear to those tears of our mother earth. The very thought of Earth being a mother to us is not even there anymore.

Just like a mother who grooms up a child in her loving cradle, this mother earth has been very obliging to us to bless with fruits and water, with dates amidst the dry, deadly and sweltering desserts, nurturing us with rain for a golden harvest, rivers flowing with shoals of fish for fisherman to live on or with the fresh tint of air to breathe in a hot sunny day. It showered us with the beautiful soft flaky snows so that we can enjoy the perfect chilly Christmas nights with a hot cup of coffee.

No ink can describe the enormous and countless ways we have been blessed with this small planet, only bothering to acquire ungratefully as much as we can from it never realizing that each of us are obligated to return to it at least the smallest amount that we can.

Survival of the fittest has been the only mantra of the 21st century. In the competitive run for materialistic accomplishment we have always brutally killed and knowingly murdered the innocence within us, not knowing what aftermaths we are leaving behind as footprints for our next generations to manage.

Nature has endured our actions. Over the years mother nature has waited patiently for better days.

The results are right in front of our eyes. We need to open our eyes to the truth, not intentionally hide away from it for our own selfish benefits. Success and achievement can no longer have a positive effect on us if we are to leave behind our children with a plundered planet, floating in deadly breathable poison.

This sudden abrupt and shocking changes in our weather pattern, extreme chilly winds with severe ice-storms, to the engulfing of villages with dark choking ashes from thousand-year-old dormant volcanoes suddenly erupting, lava exploding from now-where leaving people homeless and in shock, fire in the middle of the forest destructing villages after villages, households and properties, tornadoes and cyclones rising in unnatural ways to completely loot a whole city in seconds demolishing all structures raised through years. These are all just mere signs that there could be more devastating effects affecting our

It is late already, as manifested from these unanticipated events and calamities. The question thus remains: have we had enough lessons yet? Or do we want to still go back, sit and ponder our own self-interest at the cost of prowling our own mother every day?

Researchers looking for an alternative planet for habitation are limiting their options, as a study lead by McMaster’s René Heller suggests.

Heller’s paper says that scientists who only search for Earth-like planets may be missing out on finding habitable planets that are not like Earth.

Heller is a member of the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the lead author of a thought-provoking paper recently published in Astrobiology titled ‘Superhabitable Worlds’.

A seed germinated in Heller’s mind while perusing the livechat that accompanied a stream of an AbGradCon talk in 2012. It was during the chat that he noticed John Armstrong of Utah’s Weber State University asking if anyone thought that certain circumstances could make an Earth-like planet even more habitable than Earth itself.

“I thought about it for weeks and it somehow turned into a paper. I later invited John Armstrong, who asked the question, to join as co-author,” Heller recounted from his office in the Arthur Bourns Building.

The resulting work refutes Peter Ward’s and Donald Brownlee’s Rare Earth hypothesis, which argues that an Earth-like planet is necessary for extra-terrestrial life to subsist and that these planets may not exist.

Heller said he and his co-author were motivated by the lack of scholarship sharing their view that Earth is probably not the most likely place in the universe to be inhabited.

“All I found was literature proposing that there could be other forms of life.”

To address this oversight, the two academics explored the idea that Earth may only be barely habitable compared to other planets since it exists at “the very inner edge of the solar habitable zone,” and is consequently “literally marginally habitable because it just scrapes the edge of the solar habitable zone,” Heller added with a laugh.

To highlight the difference, Heller says they came up with a set of bodily characteristics that prospective superhabitable planets might possess.

The list is extensive, but some of the characteristics include: total surface area, plate tectonics, magnetic shielding, surface temperature, biological diversification and age.

“The most important aspect to consider is that these superhabitable planets will be terrestrial, meaning earth-like in composition, but slightly more massive than Earth, maybe two to three times the mass of the Earth.”

Despite the fact that a search for such planets is currently limited by technology, the paper already pinpoints a place to start once the means are available.

According to the report, a star named Alpha Centauri B is a member of the nearest stellar system to the Sun and is purported to host an Earth-mass planet, which is so close the star that it is rendered inhabitable.

“This star is interesting because it is slightly older than the Sun, which is a pro because its planets may have been inhabited earlier than Earth has…I think it will take maybe a decade or before these two to three Earth-mass planets, if they existed, could be discovered in the stellar habitable zone.”

NASA’s introduction of the James Webb telescope in 2018 could be helpful in characterizing of the planets if they cross the stellar disc once per orbit as it could detect the chemical imprints in the atmospheres of those worlds, Heller noted.

The open-minded hypothesis has gained traction amongst his scientific peers, says Heller, with most being amenable to the idea.

When asked if a migration from Earth is in the cards should conditions further deteriorate, Heller said, “Nothing is impossible…it might be an option. Not today, not in a thousand years, but maybe in a million years.”





Kacper Niburski / Silhouette Staff

If I was from another planet and I was visiting Earth, I’d enter the atmosphere with a wide smile. From afar, the planet would be a beautiful blend of blue, white and green. Almost nothing would be known about the little speck besides the occasional tap-dancing tune being picked up on the radio. Though brief, they’d be nearly perfect.

Some songs would be so heavenly that they’d practically be proof of divinity itself. As I’d prepare to land my spacecraft, I’d hum them. “Diddly doo, dilly da, all you need is love, diddly doo…” Besides my guttural hymns, the planet would appear almost peaceful behind the celestial firework show around it.

If I were from another planet, I’d be greeted with fear and ignorance rather than joy and happiness.

My welcoming party would take the form of ballistic missiles and nations far and wide, from big brother Russia to misnomer Papa New Guinea.

They would join hands against me like I was a houseguest who had forgotten to take off his shoes at the door. I wouldn’t even have time to explain to them that with all my tentacles, I didn’t even wear shoes.

If I were from another planet, I’d learn that many members of this seemingly barbarous species didn’t wear shoes either.

Something called money was to blame. I’d learn more too: the species inhabiting this planetary gem with music so powerful that even God would brag about it were more or less meat wagons, a squishy mass of giblets and organs that jiggled around like pocket change. They’d be animals that could think and laugh and compose great works, but they’d be animals nonetheless. They fought. They argued. They fought again. That was their history, and for some reason, they were proud of it.

If I were from another planet, I’d be jailed. In a high security prison, I’d be told that I needed a pilot’s permit to fly around the Earth’s stratosphere.

I’d tell them I didn’t know I needed one. They would reply that no one ever does – that’s how this whole thing works. I’d say which thing. They’d say that they didn’t know.

If I were from another planet, I’d learn that this species did know some things, however. They knew that the Earth was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. For some, that was already too much information to handle. They’d complain, “Oh, this winter is too hot” or “This summer is too cold” and so on.

If I was from another planet, I’d figure out that despite thousands of years of evolution, humanity was still fighting World War X. Everyone was against everyone else. Natural selection, they’d say.

If I were from another planet, I’d spend much of my time looking for the Earth’s borders. Many would point me towards a library full of dusty maps in order to show me the points at which pride met hard-fought glory. Every man, woman and child, every king and peasant, every prophet and follower, every father and every son, all the wars that had been fought, lost and forgotten, all the bloodshed, all the stories of happiness, sadness and loss, that night in Paris, that day in Monaco  – they were all contained within these patrolled borders. They were the bindings of a book only humankind knew.

If I were from another planet, I’d listen and nod to their tale. Sometimes, I’d even laugh.

Then, I’d tell them that from above, the Earth was all one big, unified landmass. And when one wasn’t knee deep in the Milky Way, the Earth was just a small crumb in a big, black bowl of cereal. It wasn’t even healthy to eat, I’d say.

If I were from another planet, I’d sift through the hokum. No political party would win in my favour. No ideology would seem better than any other. Instead, I’d say that on Juhani, the planet I was from, there were only two kinds of political platforms: winning and losing. Everyone would fit into one or the other eventually.

If I were from another planet, I’d learn of great scientists and thinkers and the aggregate of a species’ progress. I’d learn of Newton, Fermat and Einstein. I’d be baffled by their genius and sheer persistence.

And I’d try to do my part to advance humanity’s scientific theory by passing on my own E=MC2. It’d go like this: love always.

If I was from another planet and I was visiting Earth, I would be distrustful of a species whose alert, hesitant smile had seen it all: war and peace, depression and happiness, poverty and wealth, starvation and gluttony, regression and progression, death and birth. I would walk in their shoes – as they’d say – and wonder how many steps it would take until they realized that just because they could read and write, add and subtract, they didn’t have claim over this planet any more than the cockroaches. If anything, those bugs had more of one – they were around longer.

If I were from another planet, I’d remind Earthlings that they weren’t better than the immaterial mass, the lifeless cosmic stew, sifting around them either. They were simply part of it. They were the stuffing of stars.

And if I was from another planet, I wouldn’t want to come back.

By Mike Nickerson

The biggest news on planet Earth today is that the human family has grown to fill its habitat. While this situation effects every issue from economic stagnation to climate change, it is actually good news. Realizing that we are now mature as a species clarifies the task of adapting to our mature state by creating a culture that acknowledges and works within planetary limits.

How do we get a society that has been growing for ten thousand years to realize that it’s grown up now and that more growth isn’t the most important thing we have to do?

A fundamental change has taken place in the relationship between people and the earth.

It requires an equally fundamental change in how we manage ourselves.

While humans had little impact on the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, this has changed. We now affect almost everything on the planet.

There are only two laws in nature that we must obey to avoid a trial in the Court of Natural Selection. One prohibits drawing more resources than the Earth can provide. The other governs our tolerance to waste.

If our society can stay on the right side of these laws, our descendants can enjoy secure lives long into the future. Enjoying living is a big part of the solution. Once we have the material necessities of nutritious food and comfortable shelter, we get far more satisfaction from the three L’s: learning, love and laughter, than from any material acquisitions. By focusing on living, rather than possessing, we could be having so much fun that we wouldn’t have time to harm the planet.

When we accept responsibility for our new maturity, our duty as good citizens will change.

Instead of striving to earn and spend as much money as possible, we will aim to live as lightly as possible on the Earth, to enjoy living to the fullest and to manage the world in ways that will assure successive generations their place under the sun.

It is a question of direction.

Nickerson is presently traveling with his book, Life, Money and Illusion; Living on Earth As If We Want To Stay and spoke at an OPIRG event on Wednesday, Nov. 21 at McMaster. 

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