A Carbon-Neutral Lawrence

Patrick Miner

Last week, the Obama administration decided to keep Bush’s policy on polar bear endangerment, claiming the problem of climate change is too big to tackle under the Endangered Species Act.
Sarah Palin called the decision a “clear victory for Alaska,” because it ignores the obvious connection between polar bear endangerment and climate change and will likely bolster development of the North Slope oil.
As the new administration sentences polar bears to death, writes blank checks to the makers of inefficient automobiles, and embraces other pro-corporation climate change policies, Lawrence has the opportunity to stand out as an ethical and responsible institution. Our campus should aim to become carbon neutral by 2020.
The current economic situation might lead some to think this an unnecessary and/or ill-timed goal, but investments to improve efficiency and environmental impact eventually save money. The environmental theme years headed by Green Roots should not be publicity stunts.
The Green Roots committee has so far been very successful in working with students, faculty and staff to bring about changes in policy on campus. This year has seen the rewriting of heating policy, streamlining of the calendar to reduce energy usage, an end to paper applications and course catalogues and of course the construction of a LEED-certified campus center.
The people that have worked on these changes are very dedicated, but Green Roots, Greenfire and other environmental groups can’t overhaul the entire university’s environmental impact without further support from the administration and increased funding.
Other colleges and universities around the country are making plans for carbon neutrality. Currently, the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment has 633 signatories. These 633 institutions have committed to set a timetable for becoming carbon neutral and meet deadlines along the way.
Middlebury College announced in 2007 it would be carbon neutral by 2016. Middlebury is a private liberal arts college in Vermont that is much like our own, but with 2,400 students, a larger campus and older buildings.
The college may have more money than Lawrence, but Middlebury conversion will be considerably more difficult due to these differences. The College of the Atlantic, a 300-student college in Maine, has been carbon-neutral for over a year. The amount of publicity these colleges have garnered recently has been quite disproportionate to their usual levels. So if Lawrence is searching for a way to boost applications or further the prestige of the institution, leading the way on the issue of the century is the clearest path.
Lawrence has always claimed to be on the advancing edge of reform. Part of our mission statement reads, “The university is devoted to excellence and integrity in all of its activities and committed to the development of intellect and talent, the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, the cultivation of sound judgment, and respect for the perspectives of others. Lawrence prepares students for lives of achievement, responsible and meaningful citizenship, lifelong learning, and personal fulfillment.”
If we are to be “devoted to excellence and integrity in all of [our] activities,” then we should be among the first to commit to environmentally sound ethics. To be prepared for lives of “responsible and meaningful citizenship”, students should understand what it means to take a serious stance on conservation and sustainability. The responsibility of humans to reverse their destructive impacts on the planet is of the highest importance; without a stable environment there is no life, no “lifelong learning,” no “pursuit of knowledge.”
Jill Beck should sign the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. Green Roots should become a permanent committee. The new campus center should not be a fluke, but a model for the future of the university. Lawrence can achieve carbon neutrality on its small, beautiful campus. Indeed, we have a commitment, as an institution of education, to seek out progress and to further it.