This year the annual Sister Maura Smith Earth Day Lecture was given at Taylor Little Theatre this Monday, April 23, by Lois Marie Gibbs, a known environmental activist.
Gibbs has been an environmental activist since 1979, when she helped to rally for environmental justice in her hometown, Niagara Falls, N.Y. The people in the town, including her children, were experiencing severe health problems as a result of the overly polluted Love Canal that was located in the center of town.
Gibbs is now the executive director of Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), a grassroots organization that helps smaller community groups fight for the environment. She has written multiple books about her experiences with Love Canal as well as other environmental issues.
Her lecture, titled “From Silent Spring to Empowered Citizens: The Legacies of Love Canal,” touched on many of her personal experiences from living near Love Canal, including living with the poor health of her young children that was directly caused by the severe pollution in the canal.
Gibbs wanted her audience to know that her experience at Love Canal was not the end of the environmental crisis.
“We thought we’ll never let that happen again, we’ve learned our lesson, we’re done injecting chemicals into the ground,” she said. “But we haven’t learned anything; it’s still happening.”
She mentioned hydraulic fracturing as a serious environmental threat as well as the frequency of PVC plastic being used in common consumer materials.
“Throughout history all major social revolutions start with young people as the spark,” Gibbs said.
At the end of the lecture, Gibbs took questions from the audience, and the questions quickly turned toward the tires-to-energy plant that failed to take shape in Erie. A group from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., attended to ask Gibbs questions about gaining community support for getting the tires-to-energy plant out of Crawford County.
Senior Justin Desaro was inspired by Gibbs’ lecture.
“Gibbs really had an excellent grasp of the subject matter,” he said. “She really made the subject seem like it was worth our time. I think I’d like to work against the tires-to-energy plant.”
Senior Matt Teleha saw the importance of Gibbs’ overall message.
“Not enough people understand the environmental issues that are threatening our future, and the less we understand, the faster things get out of hand,” said Teleha. “She really touched on this problem.”