Krissy Hopkins is the Communications and Education Subcommittee staffer with the Chesapeake Research Consortium at the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Last weekend, I, along with more than 550 other passionate environmental educators, attended the annual Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) conference in Ocean City.
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Doug Tallamy, a witty, insect-loving professor at the University of Delaware. I never thought about the connections between birds, caterpillars and oak trees until Doug commented that a single oak tree is a host to over 500 different species of insects. But instead of filling our yards with oak trees, we plant them with manicured green lawns and non-native (sometimes invasive) plants.
Birds and insects native to this region view our backyardsas if they were the surface of Mars. Landscapes dominated by plants imported from around the world serve an ornamental, rather than functional, purpose. We suburbanites have crafted completely sterile landscapes, as we’ve been taught that bugs are a problem and Raid is the solution. Now, hundreds of bird species are declining in number because we have cut out their food source: the bugs we loathe.
So what’s the solution? To turn our lawns back into native habitats that benefit both the birds and the bugs. Many Maryland schools are already taking this advice and landscaping with native plants to create schoolyard habitats.
Some schools take their projects a step further to become certified Maryland Green Schools. One statistic that astounded me was that primary and secondary schools spend $6 billion annually on energy -- more than they spend on books and computers. Imagine if we could cut that cost by 30 percent, or $1.8 billion. Sounds good to me, right? But how?
As I learned in one MAEOE conference session, 30-40 percent of our energy use is at the discretion of the occupants of a building. So by simply raising awareness about our energy use, we can cause substantial deceases in energy consumed. Energy conservation isn’t just about changing light bulbs; it’s about changing behavior.
This conference reaffirmed my belief that simple solutions and engaged citizens can make Maryland grow greener.