A Call for a Carbon-Free Colgate

Jeff Fein

An Inconvenient Truth, which was screened twice last week by the Environmental Studies Department, is essentially a PowerPoint presentation given by Al Gore – lots of charts and graphs and Al Gore humor. The whole thing seems pretty dull until our former vice president starts to cogently make the case for an oncoming apocalypse.

It boils down to this: If we keep burning fossil fuels at our current rate, temperatures and the earth’s waters are going to rise to unfathomable levels, making our planet a less-than-humane place for humans to live – Gore’s got the hard scientific data to prove it. And you thought Snakes on a Plane was scary.

The debate about whether human activity is causing the earth’s warming is over. The debate about whether this is a bad thing is also over. Both have been definitively answered in the affirmative. The new debate in the scientific community is how long it will take for us to reach what scientists are calling “the point of no return,” the time when the earth’s hospitable, habitable climate gets knocked so far off its rocker that worldwide flooding, drought and famine are inevitable. Some say it will take another fifty years of human pillaging to reach this point. Some say we’re already there, and it’s just a matter of decades before the consequences kick in.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to debates like this one, I prefer to err on the side of caution. As a country that accounts for about 30 percent of the world’s energy consumption, we need to start to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, and we need to do it now.

Fighting global warming in any meaningful way is a masochistic activity. We’re going to have to inflict some economic pain on ourselves in order to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, which is why very few politicians are ready to make this issue their issue.

But while Washington freezes in the face of the warming issue, colleges and universities, along with state and local governments, are beginning to tackle climate change. According to campusclimatechallenge.org, 317 schools in the US and Canada are making some sort policy change to do their part. Colgate should be at the forefront of this movement.

It won’t even be that difficult for us. According to Economics Professor Bob Turner, who is deeply involved with our school’s environmental efforts, Colgate is already in pretty good shape. Fortuitously, we get our electricity from hydro and nuclear power; we burn wood to heat our rooms, but we offset that by planting trees; the Cruisers are extremely efficient since they run on biodiesel fuel. (We even tried to buy hybrid campus safety vehicles, but there’s no maintenance for them in these parts). It would only take a few steps for Colgate to become Carbon neutral.

Here’s how we do it. We charge everyone who wants to go on abroad an extra fifty dollars and use the money to purchase renewable energy credits, thereby offsetting emissions from air travel. A plan for to make this happen is already in the works, pending approval from President Chopp and the Ways and Means Committee. This policy should be given the go-ahead. Then we do the same for all of Colgate’s official travel, including that of lecturers and sports teams. Then we do the same for our own travel to and from Colgate by purchasing renewables on an individual level. When the time comes, we buy increasingly fuel-efficient campus safety vehicles and campus vans, ideally hybrids. Then we cut into our driving by biking, walking and riding the Cruiser and Voila! We have the first carbon-free school in the country.

It will take a good chunk of change to pull this off, but spread out over the whole school, it won’t be much at all. Plus we’ve got a built-in annual fundraiser – the senior class gift. This year’s gift has already been narrowed down to three choices, which the Class of 2007 is currently voting on: a campus-wide wellness initiative, a scholarship fund and an endowment to fund a lecture series. Each of these ideas has its benefits, but I propose an alternative senior class gift – a fund to move Colgate towards becoming completely carbon-free. It is too late for this to become the offical gift of the senior class, but seniors will ultimately vote with their dollars for whatever choices are presented to them. Seniors, vote for a carbon-free Colgate.

If Colgate could completely wean itself off of greenhouse gases, we would gain plenty of publicity for the issue and put pressure on other schools to join us in what is emerging as the great challenge of the twenty-first century.

As Turner put it, “If each of us says, ‘This is one issue where I should spend a little more energy, we could make a significant impact.”