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Earth Day Poster Competition 2010

Posted at 12:11 pm December 1, 2010, in Community Outreach, EOHSI Events, Student Programs

In recognition of the 40th Earth Day Celebration the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute and NIEHS Center for Environmental Exposure and Disease (CEED), sponsored an Earth Day Poster Contest. Submissions were solicited from four grade categories: Kindergarten-2nd, 3rd through 5th, 6th through 8th, and 9th through 12th grades. The announcement was left deliberately broad. Over 500 submissions from 52 schools were evaluated. Some schools submitted many posters, others only a few. In some schools there was clearly a theme around protecting the earth, with clearly Geocentric illustrations, while most posters focused more specifically on themes.

In 1990 EOHSI sponsored a statewide school poster contest with over 250 submissions. At that time a popular slogan was “We don’t inherit the environment from our parents, we borrow it from our children”. Accordingly, it seemed useful to evaluate how children viewed their environment, and what messages they would convey back to us. Prophetically, the keynote speaker at the EOHSI 1990 award session spoke on depletion of the ozone layer and climate change.

We classified posters according to major themes (many posters had multiple themes), trying as much as possible to replicate the classification used in 1990. The table should be interpreted cautiously, since a rise in the popularity of one category automatically causes a decline in other categories. It is interesting to compare how emphases have changed over the past 20 year, reflecting both television messages, school curricula, as well as the passions of the teachers, students, and their families.

Ironically, although 2010 has been declared the YEAR OF BIODIVERSITY, it is apparently a well kept secret. There were very few posters that mentioned “biodiversity” specifically, although 16% focused on protecting forests, habitats, and wildlife, a substantial increase from 1990. The focus on the Earth itself occupied 17% of the 2010 posters compared with less than 2% in 1990, and the theme “Go Green”, absent in 1990, dominated 6% of posters in 2010 and was mentioned on many more.

The 1990 contest occurred within a few months of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and a January 1990 oil leak into the Arthur Kill. So oil was definitely in the news then. The 2010 contest deadline was a week before the April 20th “Deepwater Horizon” explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, but even with oil spills out of the news 1.5% of 2010 posters emphasized it. It’s hard to imagine what the contest submissions would have looked like if the blowout had occurred a month earlier.

We expected climate and energy to be poster-worthy in 2010 and were not surprised by the increase to 7% compared with 1990 (2%). Moreover, energy and climate were included implicitly in the “Save the Earth” and “Go Green” categories.

The table below provides a comparison of major themes over 20 years. The 2010 posters were screened by an EOHSI panel and approximately the top 60 in each of the four grade categories were on display in the EOHSI building where faculty, staff, and graduate students had the opportunity to vote on theme, message and artistic merit. Three prizes plus honorable mention were identified for each grade category.

1990 2010
Recycling & Litter 38% 26%
Ocean & Beach 25% 11%
Air, Water, General 16% 14%
Oil Pollution 8% 2%
Habitats, Forests, Wildlife 7% 16%
Pesticides & Chemicals 2% 1%
Energy & Climate 2% 7%
Earth Day & Save Earth 2% 17%
“Go Green” 0% 6%

There were some unique contributions that merited recognition for the message if not art. Only two posters focused on uniquely New Jersey themes: protecting the Cohansey Aquifer and protecting coastal dunes from erosion. Oceans were a popular theme, but one poster emphasized the damage to coral reefs, another urged us to “save the Monk Seal” a highly endangered species, while a third illustrated ocean protection symbolized by an albatross suspended around the neck of a fisherman. One poster illustrated the plight of dolphins killed in tuna fishing, a theme that was much more prominent in the news a decade ago. Many posters emphasized what individuals could do to protect the environment, including care in disposing of trash illustrated by a duck trapped in a plastic 6-pack holder. Only one poster focused on organic farming or protecting food, while one focused on protecting pets. A few posters recognized the hazards of the growing human population and its insatiable demand for space, water, and other resources. And one student represented environmental enforcement as a police boat intercepted a boat that was causing pollution. Probably the most poignant, was the drawing of a seal sleeping on a city park bench, a visual play on the theme of homelessness and the accelerating loss of ice cover in polar environments.

An award ceremony was held at EOHSI and all winners and their families participated. Kenneth Reuhl PhD, EOHSI Interim Director, opened the session with an historical perspective on the importance of environmental issues in New Jersey, emphasizing that in the 1980s, “the environment” was the number one public policy issue in the State. Considering that by June, world attention was focused on the Gulf oil spill, Joanna Burger, PhD, Professor of Life Sciences at Rutgers University, and author of books on oil spills, spoke about “Oil spills from the Gulf of Mexico to New Jersey” emphasizing their long-term impact on ecosystems and human endeavors. Awards in the amounts of $100, $150, and $250 were given to the 2nd, place, 1st place, and Grand Prize winner in each of four age categories: grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Each of the Grand Prize winners gave a short talk on the topic they depicted.


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