Students and faculty partake in global clean-up effort

In an effort to lower the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere, a group of 30 USF students, faculty members and their families joined more than 7,000 organizations across 188 countries to clean the environment one forest at a time.

On Saturday, the team gathered at Back Woods Forest, a 25-acre preserve, behind the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), and cleaned from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

They cleared out broken glass pieces in a part of the forest that used to be a popular dumping ground and weeded out invasive plant species.

Amanda Plazarin, a junior majoring in sociology, said she didn’t mind waking up early to help.

“Society caused these environmental issues,” she said, “and now we have to fix it.”

Plazarin said she hoped the event would create a domino effect of awareness among students.

Jenny Friedman and Laurel Graham, associate professors in USF’s Sociology Department, and Carolyn Rhodes, the conservation coordinator for MOSI, led the group, which was part of a larger global effort called 350 that was started by journalist and environmentalist Bill McKibben.

“In my classes, we have talked about Bill McKibben, and we are aware about his activism and his organization:,” Graham said. “We decided to have this event in honor of … the organization.” The safe level of carbon dioxide for humans is 350 parts per million (ppm). McKibben decided to launch his effort to bring the current levels closer to the safe limit.

“Currently, the level of CO2 is at 388 ppm,” Friedman said. “Instead of just teaching students about sustainability, we thought it would be better to get students off their seats and active at taking part in the community and showing them that they could make a difference.”

Laura Zota, a senior majoring in sociology, said she was more than happy to accept the challenge.

“I am happy to lend my time here today,” she said. “It is great that USF is being part of this global effort. Climate change and the environment is a major issue that is affecting everyone.”

According to Rhodes, foreign plants, such as air potatoes, overgrow and compete with native plants for essentials resources like air and water. The competition, in turn, harms the forest’s ecosystem.

“(The native plants) are not sequestering their CO2 at their optimal level because of the competition with these invasive species,” she said.

More than two dozen black garbage bags were filled with air potatoes and other invasive species during the event and brought to a compost pile located at MOSI.

Despite missing USF’s Homecoming football game, Matthew Logan, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary social science, said he felt his contribution made up for it.

“It is definitely tiring … but it is worth every sweat,” he said. “(It) is worth sacrificing the game to be part of this good cause. It looks like we have done a minimum, but a little can amount to a lot.”

Graham said she hopes the event will become a USF tradition.

“It is time we become part of the movement,” she said. “We, as a university and community, need to be part of the effort. It is not the same planet anymore. It is essential for people to participate in their community or university, as we are all part of this, and only can we as a society make a difference.”