Vanguard: Students discuss water sustainability, TED Talks
Author: Kaela O'Brien, PSU Vanguard
Posted: February 20, 2013

Read the original article from the Vanguard here.

After meeting in the fall, two ambitious Portland State freshmen put their common passion for TED Talks to use by creating the student group Tea with TED.

On Thursday, 20 to 30 students gathered in the Montgomery Court Residence Hall lounge to watch and discuss two TED Talks on water sustainability over snacks and tea.

After freshmen Amber Smith and James Lopez met, it didn’t take long for them to realize they shared a love for the Internet videos known as TED Talks, which are filmed lectures on a variety of topics. The collective motto of these videos is, “ideas worth spreading.”

The two students created the group, which aims to meet monthly so students can watch and discuss TED Talks on a particular subject.

This month’s meeting discussed water sustainability. Students from Take Back the Tap and EcoReps were also present. During the meeting, students viewed two talks: Capt. Charles Moore speaking on the “seas of plastic” and Anupam Mishra speaking on the “ancient ingenuity of water harvesting.”

The first video is a talk by Moore highlighting the massive amounts of plastic that have been gathering for years in the oceans. Largely to blame is the excessive use of plastic packaging, especially in the form of liquid containers such as soda or water bottles, Moore explained.

The video was followed by a group discussion focusing on students’ reactions and possible solutions.

One student claimed the video made her feel like taking an environmental science class, while another said the video left him hungry for answers.

The second video, a lecture led by Anupam Mishra, centered on environmentally friendly forms of water harvesting. Mishra provided examples of sustainable engineering that have allowed for a water harvesting system to function for centuries in the deserts of India.

The successful system was created by a group of local men, in comparison to a government funded water-harvesting project also mentioned in the talk, which failed.

After watching this video, rather than discussing it as a large group, the students broke into smaller groups of around five or six students to share their opinions and reactions.

Many felt that the passion and knowledge behind local movements was priceless, while others maintained that it will take major change funded by large companies or the government to reach a higher frequency of sustainable practices.

While students discussed these subjects, they snacked on the sustainable food provided.

All of the food, except for a single bag of popcorn, was either purchased in bulk or in another way that made it possible for no plastic to be used. Also available was an assortment of teas.

The event was co-sponsored by two other student groups. EcoReps is a group of student leaders trained to promote environmentally and socially responsible behavior in residence halls, whose goals include reducing water usage.

Also present was the student group Take Back the Tap, which specifically focuses on decreasing the use of disposable water bottles.

“They are awful. Unsustainable. Ridiculous,” representative Emma Prichard said. “Our goal is to ban bottled water on campus.”

Take Back the Tap started the campaign responsible for the installation of more than 10 bottle-filling stations located on campus.

Because Tea with TED was started after the annual student group budgets were allocated, all events are based on donations and sponsorship, Smith said.

“Next year we will receive funding, and hopefully then we can have a better facility,” she said. “We have discussed getting a conference table with paper so that students can take notes or even doodle during the videos.”

The group has hosted four events since fall. Previous topics have included gender roles and linguistics.

“We are open to suggestions for TED Talks,” Smith said. She also noted that education and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights are next on the agenda.

“Our main goal and hope is that soon our discussion will motivate action,” she said. “That way we will be making the change we see discussed in TED Talks.”

For more information, you can find Tea with TED at PSU on Facebook.

To get involved with Take Back the Tap, join their meetings on Fridays at noon at the Green Space in the Smith Memorial Student Union basement, next door to Food For Thought Cafe. Future events include the “Tap That” event on March 1, at which there will be testing for water quality and taste.