Editor’s Column – Madison County Steps It Up

Sumner Ellsworth

Remember how back in middle school you heard all about the elusive Northwest Passage? For all that every explorer in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries was looking for it, no one ever quite found it. Where it was warm enough to sail there was land, and up north there was ice.

The Northwest Passage opened up this summer. So did another route over Russia. All those explorers turned over in their graves. “God damn,” you can just imagine them saying, “Why couldn’t that happen back when I was sailing the seven seas?”

Polar sea ice in the arctic declined by more than 30 percent this summer. That’s a ridiculous amount, and represents a loss two times as great as the one that occurred last year. Scientists predict that at this rate there will be clear summer ocean in the arctic by 2013.

What’s the cause for this miraculous event? It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that global warming is taking the blame. Global warming is one of the most important issues facing our society today. Not everyone sees it that way, but if we don’t fix the global warming problem, it’s going to make a lot of our other problems seem superfluous. We’ve already raised the global temperature one degree. If we continue on this path, we’ll raise the sea level some five meters. I don’t have a good grasp on all that will mean, except that I’ll be living a whole lot closer to the beach.

As a rule it doesn’t seem like many people are doing anything to slow or, god forbid, stop global warming. The last time the issue came up globally, over in Kyoto, the first world didn’t step up and left the onus of the responsibility on the third world. Needless to say, we didn’t make any progress that time.

Nationally, not much has happened either. There have been books published and movies put out, but there hasn’t been much movement in the government to address the issue. California recently committed to cutting carbon emissions, and that is commendable, but they seem to be alone in their actions.

Despite an overwhelming lack of national or international commitment to cutting carbon emissions, one of the things that always strikes me is the way that our community has dedicated itself to that very cause. Colgate has shown a real commitment to environmental awareness. This semester, we have a contingent of speakers coming to campus to speak about global warming and what can and should be done about it, including Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and founder of the Step It Up Campaign; Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers; and Richard Lindzen, a global warming skeptic from MIT.

Colgate students intend to both attend a Focus the Nation rally in D.C. on November 3, and throw a step it up rally of our very own on the academic quad. The senior class gift is a green initiative, with the aim of making Colgate a more sustainable campus. As a start towards that goal, the new Ho Science Center was designed to meet LEED’s Silver specification, it just hasn’t been inspected because of the cost of certification.

It’s more than just the college, though. There’s some expectation that college students and professors will be more progressive and liberal in terms of advancing change. The whole of Madison County is pretty much as progressive as Colgate is, in some ways with more of an eye to the long term.

For example, you can recycle anything in Madison County. I have never in my life lived in a place that takes more kinds of plastics than the recycling people here will accept. At home, we can recycle ones and twos, and I’ve lived places that take even less than that. Here, they take all plastics, as well as paper, glass and cans. The only thing they don’t actively do, as far as I can tell, is compost, and let’s face it, you can do that yourself at any rate.

Then there are the windmills. Madison County is home to the largest windfarm east of the Mississippi. That’s pretty impressive. The windmills have their opponents, but as a result of having them here, power in Madison County is cheap and green. At the moment, there are enough windmills to power about half of the homes in the county, and another farm is being built right now, just over the hill from Colgate.

Clearly, Colgate University and Madison County are far from being perfectly green, but we’re getting there; and in a world that is only just now slowly starting to care, it’s encouraging that we live in a community that is doing something proactive.