Save the Grand Fennell Oak
PC Community Unites to Speak Out Against the College’s Plans to Cut Down Historic Campus Tree
With the demolition of Fennell Hall expected to start this summer for the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, the school plans to cut down the over 150-year-old Grand Fennell Oak to make room for this building. Immediately, faculty from all disciplines, as well as students and families, began demonstrating their frustration and opposition to these plans. A student-created change.org petition has since been published online, asking for the College to rethink this decision. Amassing over 600 signatures in the first three days alone and over 1,000 in the first week, the petition has received great support from our campus community, proving how much the red oak is valued by our community members. From a monetary perspective, The Grand Fennell Oak is appraised at over $44,000, according to the tree asset value listed on the 2022 Providence College Tree Inventory and Management Plan. However, it’s clear that this tree has a significantly greater inherent, historic, and personal value to members of the Providence College community.
Many petition supporters have brought up the environmental importance of trees, explaining that trees are important habitats for insect species, as well as important for air and stormwater filtration, as Jill Parrett, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, explains. Trees play an integral role in removing pollution from our air, converting it into clean, breathable oxygen. She also mentions that trees have the added benefit of alleviating stress and improving mental health. In addition, Parrett states that “mature trees with large canopies also provide a respite from the urban heat islands we live in.” Multiple comments on the petition similarly address how trees will be essential in helping us cope with increased temperatures due to climate change. As carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise due to our reliance on fossil fuels, we will need trees to remove these pollutants from our atmosphere via photosynthesis. However, if we carelessly cut down trees, we threaten our planet and our very existence. It is especially important to protect large trees like the Grand Fennell Oak, as larger trees are much more effective at removing atmospheric pollutants than small trees.
Additionally, native trees play an essential role in our ecosystem. As Providence College cuts down native trees and replaces them with non-native species, this will threaten the biodiversity we have on campus. For example, Audubon explains that scientists have determined that oak trees are home to more than 550 moth and butterfly species. This means that oaks are not only vital to the survival of these insects, but organisms that rely on caterpillars, moths, and butterflies as food. Audubon adds that in contrast, the ginkgo tree, a non-native species, supports just five species. We need to prioritize preserving these valuable tree species and keeping our campus a natural environment where nature and biodiversity can flourish.
Others add that it is our responsibility to protect Creation and serve as stewards of our environment as highlighted in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Sí: On the Care of Our Common Home. Dr. Lynette Boos from the Mathematics and Computer Science Department emphasizes that we have “been entrusted with an irreplaceable resource for current and future students, and it is our responsibility to be careful stewards and not do anything short-sighted because it seems convenient.” Dr. Joe Cammarano of the Political Science Department similarly adds that these decisions cannot be based on short-term economic gain; rather, they must focus on and prioritize our long-term stewardship of our Earth. When the School of Nursing and Health Sciences opens, Providence College will undeniably grow economically; however, we cannot ignore the long-term consequences of these actions which would endanger the preservation of nature for future generations, he explains.
In his encyclical, Pope Francis highlights that we need to stop treating nature as a resource to be manipulated and exploited to our advantage. To cut down the Grand Fennell Oak would be in direct opposition to the words of Pope Francis. In his encyclical, he explains, “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” Cutting down the Grand Fennell Oak only perpetuates this trend of human destruction which the Pope is trying to warn us about. We have no right to carelessly destroy and rid our planet of its biodiversity. To do so would be to violate God’s Creation. Dr. Sandra Keating from the Department of Theology echoes this idea, explaining that the Grand Fennell Oak “does not belong to us; it belongs to the order of Creation. These are the types of decisions that have contributed to our current environmental issues.”
As explained in Laudato Sí, we owe it to future generations to preserve and protect plants, animals, and our environment. Providence College Alumni have explained similar sentiments. Beth Ferland ’94 talks about how she has multiple family members that have attended Providence College, all walking on the same grounds as the Grand Fennell Oak. “My dad walked by this tree, many of my uncles, myself, my husband, and now my daughter,” she says. “Looking forward to the future hoping my grandchildren will enjoy the tree and think of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who were witnesses to this grand tree.” Choosing to cut down this tree would erase an important part of history for many alumni, students, and faculty.
Professors also have strong memories associated with the tree. Judd Schiffman of the Art Department, for example, has used the Grand Fennell Oak as a source of inspiration in his ceramics classes. He explains that in the studio, students have been making sculptures to place at the base of its trunk and honor the tree. Schiffman adds that he makes a point to walk underneath the Grand Fennell Oak when he travels from the studio to the art gallery in Smith Center for the Arts, explaining that “it creates an abundance of shade and feels like a wild, natural space in the midst of a very well-groomed and cared for campus.”
Dr. Boos, whose office is in Howley Hall, also has a strong connection to the red oak. Since her first day at Providence College, she has been “in awe of this tree,” something she continues to feel every morning when she walks into her office. Parrett adds that during her field work across campus, she loves observing the tree change from season to season, whether it’s watching the leaves change color or counting bird nests.
Current students have also expressed their deep, personal connections with the Grand Fennell Oak. Lily Alessandro ’24 has lived in Fennell Hall since her freshman year. Although she is sad about the demolition of the building, she hopes that the tree can remain and “coexist” as our campus continues to grow. She explains that she chose to live in Fennell Hall because of its “closeness to nature.” Alessandro appreciates the naturalness of lower campus and this tree specifically, as much of the environment on campus is carefully pruned and landscaped. As a Catholic, she explains that the Grand Fennell Oak serves as a reminder of the beauty and mystery of nature, as well as God’s creativity and love for Creation.
Another PC student, Sarah Klema ’23, lived in Fennell Hall during the pandemic, explaining that during this isolating time, the Grand Fennell Oak, which stood right outside her window, helped her feel less alone. She states that each day, “it became routine to greet the tree before entering [her] dorm, or to stand under its presence in a moment of contemplation when coming back from a walk.” She felt protected underneath its canopy, during a time in which she needed this comfort.
The only question that remains is what can we, as students, faculty, families, and alumni, do to save this historic tree? Dr. Tuba Agartan of the Health Sciences Department explains that sustainability needs to be prioritized more at Providence College, specifically by incorporating sustainability initiatives into the College’s strategic plan and courses. From a student level, one of the best things we can do is speak out and express our opinions. Student support and advocacy has been imperative in implementing some of the most impactful sustainability changes on campus. From composting to reusable to-go boxes, these are successful initiatives that were brought up and proposed by students. By expressing our opposition to the destruction of the Grand Fennell Oak, students can play a critical role in saving this tree.
The Grand Fennell Oak existed long before Providence College was established. It would be careless to cut it down and lose such an important part of history and our ecosystem. As Dr. Keating explains, “At a Catholic College, we should be an example of commitment to protect Creation, not to destroy what is in our way.”
Pesticide Use on PC’s Campus
Why We Need to Stop this Practice to Preserve Biodiversity
Despite the devastating impact it has on important pollinator species, Providence College still uses pesticides on campus. Pollinators including honeybees play a vital role in our ecosystem, responsible for pollinating over 80 percent of flowering plant species. Bees are also involved in the production of one-third of the food we eat. However, across the country, humans still heavily rely on the very chemicals that are responsible for killing countless bees each year. Pesticides are not species specific. When we use pesticides to eliminate certain pests, we kill all insect species in their path. We need to stop using toxic chemicals and prioritize the preservation, health, and safety of all species.
The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used every year in the United States alone. This not only poses a threat to insect species but to humans, as pesticides can be transported via runoff into our groundwater. This means that pesticides also have a dangerous impact on marine and aquatic organisms. Additionally, because pesticides are sprayed onto fruits and vegetables, this means that pesticides are directly on our food.
Pesticides and herbicides can cause both acute and chronic health issues. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains, these chemicals can cause skin and eye irritation and, in severe cases, damage to the nervous and endocrine systems and cancers. Pesticides can also lead to respiratory issues due to inhalation. If pesticides can threaten humans at this level, it’s no surprise that bee populations are seeing dramatic population declines in recent years.
These chemicals can also lead to a variety of side effects or sub lethal effects in bees. While these effects are not deadly, they are threatening to honeybee survival and function. Researchers have found that pesticides have a negative effect on memory, learning, foraging, breathing, reproduction, and body temperature regulation, all of which impede honeybee survival individually and as a species.
Dr. Rachael Bonoan, a professor in the Providence College Biology Department who specializes in pollinator ecology, explains that one of the best things we can do to protect pollinators is to stop using pesticides. Instead of mowing the grass and landscaping frequently, we should instead embrace the natural variety of plants and wildflowers that grow on campus, including the weeds. Having a wide range of plant and flowering species significantly helps pollinators, but this plant diversity is threatened by the use of pesticides and herbicides. We should prioritize planting native plant species including coneflowers, goldenrod, and lavender which are popular among pollinators.
There are also natural, unharmful alternatives to pesticides that are equally as effective as chemical pesticides, Dr. Bonoan explains. This method, known as Integrated Pest Management, involves introducing predators into an environment to naturally remove pests. Aphids, for example, are common agricultural pests that are controlled through IPM. By introducing ladybugs into their fields, farmers can naturally eliminate aphids that are destructive to crops. Similarly, the cucumber beetle, another pest that threatens crop yield and production, is drawn to cucumbers. By cultivating cucumber plants away from the fields, they are naturally deterred from crops.
Dr. Bonoan adds that supporting local farms is also beneficial for bees as well as humans because many local farms choose to avoid using pesticides in their fields. Furthermore, instead of using chemical fertilizers to keep our lawns green, we can instead opt for natural fertilizers that are composed of animal waste and other natural materials. These fertilizers encourage nutrient release in the soil, providing plants with important nutrients naturally such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
It’s clear that pesticides are a huge threat to biodiversity. So why do we continue to use them on PC’s campus? It has been ingrained in us that we need to have a perfectly landscaped and green lawn, which continues to be the only acceptable way for many people. If we were to let the weeds, grass, and wildflowers grow, I would argue it would make our campus even more beautiful and natural, not to mention a place where biodiversity can thrive. We need to start rethinking what our front yards should look like. By continuing to rely on pesticides to make our environment unnatural and perfect, we only further harm ourselves and animals with these toxic chemicals. We need to start healing nature. In order for Providence College to truly be a part of the PVD Pesticide Free initiative, we need to fully commit to eliminating all pesticides on campus.
Why You Should Continue Meatless Meals After Lent
The Environmental Impacts of the Meat Industry
The return to campus after Easter break marks the end of meatless Fridays in observance of Lent. From an environmental perspective, eliminating meat on Fridays at Providence College has a positive impact on our planet. Annually, an average American diet produces 2,000 kilograms of greenhouse gasses. However, by eliminating meat from your diet for just one day a week, you can decrease this amount by 400 kilograms. Switching to a plant-based diet is arguably one of the best things we can do to live sustainably and help our planet. While this lifestyle might not be something everyone is able to adopt, the next best thing we can do is avoid eating meat for one day, one week, or even for one meal.
About one-third of greenhouse gasses emitted into our atmosphere are from food production. Of this number, about 60 percent can be attributed to meat production, while 29 percent is attributed to the production of plant-based foods. Animals raised for meat, specifically cows, also release a greenhouse gas called methane, which is 26 percent stronger and better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that these animals are responsible for one-third of our global methane emissions. Plant-based meat, however, releases about 90 percent fewer emissions.
Additionally, around 70 percent of our world’s deforestation is due to agriculture, most notably meat production. As meat consumption continues to increase over the years, deforestation and the loss of trees to meet demand will make it even more difficult to remove carbon dioxide emissions from our atmosphere and mitigate climate change. On the other hand, plant-based meat uses up to 95 percent less land according to the United Nations Environment Assembly.
Meat production also has a significant water footprint. 15,000 liters of water are required to produce just 1 kilogram of beef. Pork and chicken similarly require a lot of water, using about 6,000 and 4,300 liters of water respectively per kilogram of meat. More specifically, the UN Environment Assembly estimates that 2,500 liters of water are used to produce one beef burger, and just three slices of bacon require 408 liters. Think of all the water you can save by choosing to skip a burger for one day, as well as how much water we’ve preserved by not serving them on campus during Lent. The UN also estimates that plant-based meat substitutes use 75-95 percent less water.
Meat consumption has a significant environmental impact, requiring copious amounts of resources. By making small dietary changes to exclude meat partially or entirely, it’s possible to help preserve these resources, as well as minimize our greenhouse gas emissions. Adopting a plant-based diet in some form is one of the best ways we as individuals can help do our part in mitigating climate change.
Making Earth Day Every Day
Why We Need to Celebrate This Holiday Year-round
The 1960s was a critical decade for environmental policy in the United States, serving as the first time politicians began to recognize how humans play a large role in environmental destruction. Fortunately, this led to important policy changes and legislation to protect our planet. However, this relationship between human activity and ecological degradation was something already well-known among environmentalists prior to the 1960s.
Environmentalists including Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Gaylord Nelson were essential figures in the environmental movement. Carson’s Silent Spring is arguably one of the most influential texts of the movement. Published in 1962, it revealed the dangers of D.D.T. and pesticide use on both human and wildlife health, accusing chemical companies of hiding these dangerous side effects from the public. The publication resulted in the ban of D.D.T. across the country. With his Sand County Almanac published in 1949, Leopold introduced the term “land ethic” for the first time, an idea that humans need to coexist with nature, rather than continue to dominate and exploit it. This message is still prevalent today, as decades later, it seems as though we still have yet to adopt such a vision.
In 1969, environmentalist and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea for Earth Day, and in 1970, it was celebrated for the first time on April 22. Earth Day was a turning point for environmental awareness and advocacy in the U.S. The same year in 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was formed, as well as the National Environmental Education Act and the Clean Air Act. In the next three years, the U.S. would also go on to establish the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The first Earth Day was an environmental breakthrough, resulting in some of the most important environmental legislation we have to date.
Still, just over 50 years later, it seems as though we have forgotten the importance of Earth Day and what it means as we continue to act in unsustainable ways that harm our planet. Every year, over one billion people in over 193 countries celebrate Earth Day. Imagine how much of an impact we could make if this many people treated every day like Earth Day.
From what the March 2023 I.P.C.C. report explains, it’s clear that we need people advocating for environmental change year-round. According to the report, we have already caused our planet to warm an additional 1.1 degrees Celsius, dangerously nearing the 1.5 degrees Celsius scientists constantly warn is the tipping point.
What happens if temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius? In terms of biodiversity, 14 percent of species could be threatened with extinction, and a loss of up to 90 percent of coral reefs is also expected. Additionally, 950 million people could start experiencing drought as well as extreme temperatures, with 45–58 days of the year likely to surpass 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Flooding is also expected to affect 24 percent more people with this increase.
We need to change our habits every day of the year, not just on Earth Day. We cannot combat climate change and other environmental issues by reflecting on our lifestyles and advocating for the planet only one day a year. It’s our responsibility to not only make sustainable choices each day but to push for environmental policy that is crucial for mitigating climate change. If we want to live on a planet that is equitable, sustainable, just, and habitable, this is something we have to do all year.
Keeping Our Community Clean
Pick Up After Yourselves, PC
“Darty” season is once again upon us, and for those who remain blissfully unaware of what this entails, don’t expect it to be pretty. Each weekend, the Providence College student body never fails to demonstrate blatant lack of respect for their neighborhood, the environment, and their fellow Friars’ off-campus homes by littering cans, bottles, vape pens—you name it—across lawns, sidewalks, and streets.
When we come to college, most of us want to be treated like the adults we are. But it’s impossible to be treated like adults if we act like children. Littering is irresponsible, disrespectful, bad for the planet, and a physical manifestation of entitlement and laziness. There is absolutely no reason to do it, and it is so easy to not do. Even on campus, where, like the blue light system, you can’t stand anywhere without seeing at least one trash and recycling bin, we wake up each Sunday morning to cans, bottles, coffee cups, and broken glass all over the ground.
Surely you wouldn’t do the same to your own house or your yard at home. So why is it okay to disrespect our campus and the surrounding community?
For years, ECOPC has been hosting Eaton St. cleanups, where a dozen or so volunteers head out before most students are awake on a Sunday morning with gloves and trash bags to pick up all the garbage. This year, one cleanup was the morning after Halloween, so costume pieces and decorations were added to the mix. Not only does this demonstrate the same blatant laziness and disrespect to our off-campus community, but it also shows a huge wastefulness problem. Most of these costumes and decorations were probably just purchased, only to be immediately thrown away—and don’t even reach the trash bin.
The 02908 Club also has their own clean-up crew who takes care of messes on the weekends, and students leasing the houses face serious fines for litter at the end of the school year. Underclassmen littering at these seniors’ houses could be costing them upwards of $250. Two weekends ago, the 02908 Club workers spent seven hours picking up trash from PC students.
Unfortunately, it is impossible and unnecessary for ECOPC members and the 02908 Club crew to clean the streets and campus every day. PC students have to start taking accountability for their own actions. There are so many easy ways to avoid littering—carrying your drinks in a reusable cup, bringing empty bottles and cans to recycling bins (Are you missing one in your dorm? Email email@example.com), and reminding your friends to do the same. It’s easy to have fun on the weekend without disrespecting the community and the environment.