By UW Sustainability | Apr 28, 2016

UW Earth Club president Aaron Tam introduced the club's "Tap That" campaign during the Earth Day celebration, a project that is working to reduce the use of plastic water bottles on campus. Tam is a currently a senior at the University of Washington studying Environmental Science: Wildlife Conservation and Political Science. He's passionate about environmental and socioeconomic justice, and is proud to have contributed greatly to climate action in Washington and campus sustainability efforts. As President of Earth Club, Aaron supported CarbonWA: a climate policy initiative in Washington and managed the Tap That project, which aims to reduce plastic bottle consumption and promote the use of tap water and reusable water.

Read the text of his Earth Day talk:

Tap That is an Earth Club and Campus Sustainability Fund Project that aims to educate and reduce the use of plastic water bottles on campus. We're kick starting our education and outreach today with tabling games and a movie showing. We hope to eventually renegotiate the UW's contract with Coca-Cola to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on campus.

So why is project Tap That here? We’re here because: Worldwide use of plastic has increased 20-fold in the past 50 years, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. About a third of all plastics produced escape collection systems, only to wind up floating in the sea or the stomach of some unsuspecting bird. More than 70 percent of the plastic we produce is either put in a landfill or lost to the world’s waterways and other infrastructure. Once plastic gets washed into waterways, the damage caused by plastics’ presence costs about $13 billion annually in losses for the tourism, shipping and fishing industries. It disrupts marine ecosystems and threatens food security for people who depend on subsistence fishing. According to the World Economic Forum, plastic will outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050. Plastic production accounts for 6 percent of global oil consumption which contributes of climate change.

All of these organizations out on Red Square are here for an important reason. Divest UW and CarbonWA are here because of climate change. It is the biggest issue facing our planet today. The Department of Ecology estimates that it will cost Washington families, businesses, and communities 10 billion dollars per year from climate change effects by 2020. Potential costs to Washington include: lost natural water storage from snowpack decline, reduced salmon populations, increased wildfire costs, coastal and storm damage, and reduced food production.

We’re approaching our sixth mass extinction because habitats around the world are changing, animals are hunted for their tusks and teeth and fur. Toxins are leaching into streams and lakes and the ground beneath us. We are losing species 20 to 100 times the rate of the past. Only this time, the culprit isn’t a massive asteroid impact or volcanic explosions or the inexorable drifting of continents. It’s us. 93% of the reefs in the Great Barrier Reef have been hit by coral bleaching. UW Recycling and the Campus Food Pantry are here because 40% of food is wasted in the U.S when we have tens of millions of people who are food insecure. Furthermore, the methane from organic waste and anaerobic bacteria in the landfill will further contribute to climate change. In the first two decades of its release, methane is 84x more potent than CO2.

It can be daunting to face such large problems head on, but just ignoring them does not make them go away. Just being “neutral” or apathetic on an issue is automatically taking sides with the status quo that is perpetuating this destruction. If we are not the ones paying the price for it, it will be other marginalized communities or future generations. Unfortunately, we will soon no longer have the luxury of passing off the problems we created to the next generation. We may not be able to fix all the social and environmental ills in the world, but we can damn well try to do the best we can!

That’s why young people have started and pushed forward many great social and environmental initiatives and movements here at UW. DivestUW got the UW to divest their endowments from coal. Carbon Washington, a carbon tax initiative seeking to put a price on carbon pollution, was born here at UW. UW Recycling has done their best to address waste issues, and helped us beat our PAC-12 competitors in recycling during the national Recyclemania competition and helped us achieve a waste diversion rate of 65%. Campus Food Pantry has also been started recently this quarter to help fight food insecurity here on campus. We also have Campus Sustainability Fund which funds many other numerous brilliant initiatives and programs led by students.

So I encourage you all to get involved in CarbonWA, in Earth Club, in creating your own sustainability project using Campus Sustainability Fund. Join a club, organization, or start your own campus sustainability project! If you’re not sure which club to join, then you can go to the Green Husky Coalition meeting coming up that Veronica will be facilitating. Start with one thing and build up. Starting off with recycling is one good way to start, but if we’re going to make the large systemic change, we’re going to need to continue to rise up and fight for our future.

You students have so much potential here to bring about change, and your voice matters so much because we are the face of the future that will have to pay the true price for the mistake of the past. As the species that caused all these issues, we have a moral responsibility to right our wrongs. We ought to protect life because it is beautiful and intrinsically valuable. You all are the leaders of tomorrow.