Posted January 16, 2014 by Felix Chrome in Letters & Opinion

Our Fountain In The Desert


Student submission by Matthew Elswick

A sustainability note to new students: your backgrounds in sustainability issues are likely to be rich and varied, and as undergrads at Evergreen, will no doubt become broader and deeper. This is one of the frequently touted benefits of an Evergreen education. In many ways, Evergreen bases its reputation on its sustainable practices, and mostly for good reason, but there are some almost comedic gaps in Evergreen’s sustainability consciousness, which you will no doubt come across during your time here. Here is one that I like to call Evergreen’s “Fountain in the Desert.” (see picture)

You may have heard of a massive fountain spewing water into the air at an opulent Las Vegas casino, placed there by humans in a wasteful gesture of defiance against the very real and ever-growing water shortage. You may have thought it ridiculous. But we at Evergreen have our own version of a giant middle finger, waving toward the gods of finite resources. While Nevada scrapes to find enough water, Evergreen, along with most other colleges in our state, is facing a money crunch, and the trees in Red Square represent our fountain.

In a few months you will see what I mean. Every year we spend many hundreds of human work hours and several thousands of dollars pruning the sprouts on the trees in our courtyard. This is our gesture of defiance to the on-going budget cuts, the refusal to raise the pay of college staff, the cuts in funding to state colleges, and the hikes in student tuition. Watch for it, the yearly pruning, which takes weeks.

I love Evergreen, and in some ways, these crazy, expensive, non-native trees have become iconic for Red Square, even if native trees would fulfill the same function. If I could write an evaluation of Evergreen as a college, I would have a long list of positives attributes to list. In the “Needs Improvement” section of my evaluation, I would have a list of about six things that the college could do better, and these trees would be listed as an unsustainable glitch.

There are also the odd patches of lawn that serve no purpose and the paving of a permaculture area, and the rumor that our power comes from environmentally devastating frakked natural gas. There is also the practice of padding our carbon footprint assessment by using our forested areas while at the same time deforesting on a whim. Finally, there is the reduction of the student food garden by putting in more fences, and the vandalism of our buildings by trust-fund vandals (I would have also included the huge swath of invasive English Ivy growing in the median in the approach to the college, but I’m not sure if that is Evergreen’s responsibility). Just a heads-up, new students – Evergreen has a good environmental reputation, which in many ways is still deserved, but don’t take it as a given. There is room for improvement, and you new students have the time to work on the areas where we have fallen behind. Just keep your eyes open, and speak up. I have tried to make more room for students in the Campus Land Use Committee but I am out of time.

Matthew Elswick is an Evergreen undergraduate alum, and is currently working through the  Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) program. You can contact Matthew at