Op-Ed: The Maroon and Grey Should Go Green

Snowmaggedon. Snowtober. Sandy.

These rather innocuous, even amusing names mask the disruption, destruction, and death wrought by extreme winter weather during my career in the Upper School. Over this past week, we have had occasion to add a new “snow event” (as Mr. Davis has taken to calling them) to the list: the Six-Day Weekend of 2014. The last Polar Bear

If these days out of class have taught us anything, they have demonstrated the harsh reality of global climate change. The comfortable fiction that anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming does not present a threat has melted away, even as the piles of frozen snow grow higher.

The question therefore becomes, what can St. Luke’s do? In what way can we do as we are bidden by our motto and “Go Forth to Serve”?

Towards the end of my sophomore year, I had an opportunity to participate in the Model United Nations conference held in New York City (the opening and closing ceremonies took place in the General Assembly Hall itself). My fellow students and I were there representing the Maldives, a nation of scattered atolls adrift in the Indian Ocean.

Model UN sessions tend to be conducted with a mix of deadly seriousness and fairly juvenile humor (the endless jokes about Djibouti alone would make this clear), and it was in that spirit that my fellow Maldivian delegates and I set forth to make sure that any resolution passed in any committee, regardless of topic, would include provisions allowing for the evacuation of the Maldivian people by 2050.

This kind of mass exodus sounds apocalyptic, and therefore comes imbued with a certain amount of black humor. Yet, having been to the Maldives and having spoken to some of the people who live there, I can say that it is not laughing matter. The Maldives are, after all, the nation likely to slip under the waves first, as sea levels around the world rise due to global warming.

In the face of such an existential threat, the Maldives have made an extraordinary pledge: they intend to become carbon-neutral (that is, to balance their greenhouse-gas emissions by removing an equivalent amount from the environment) by 2020. Costa Rica, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, and Tuvalu, among other nations, have made similar pledges. The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has not only achieved this goal of carbon-neutrality, but actually acts as a global climate sink: Bhutanese forests absorb more greenhouse gas than the Bhutanese people emit.

In Connecticut alone, 12 colleges and universities – including Trinity College and Wesleyan University – have become signatories to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging to develop plans to achieve carbon-neutrality within the next several decades.

Carbon-neutrality does not need to be a far-off goal however: at a growing number of campuses, it is the new reality. The College of the Atlantic, Green Mountain College, the University of Minnesota at Morris and Colby College (alma mater of the Sentinel’s own Mr. Flachsbart) have all achieved carbon-neutrality in the past several years.

In September, Ms. Perry observed that “The thing that most distinguishes St. Luke’s is our explicit focus on social responsibility. A lot of schools talk about service… I can tell already that we walk the walk.” If St. Luke’s truly wishes to “walk the walk” of service in this regard, then we ought to seriously pursue a goal of carbon-neutrality. (Other goals, such as divestment from major polluters, are impractical: in this particular instance, for example, the School’s endowment is invested under the direction of a third party, Vanguard, and thus divestment is unlikely to be possible, at least in the short-term.)

We are already charter members of the Green Schools Alliance, an organization that brings together more than 4,000 schools around the world around a series of core goals, one of which is across-the-board cuts in carbon emission by 2020. Currently, we are considered “Climate Stewards,” working to “achieve carbon reductions over time.” We ought to step up our game and become “Climate Champions,” dedicated to achieving carbon neutrality by 2020, or at the latest, 2028, our hundredth anniversary.

In order to achieve this lofty goal, we have to take several steps, and do so quickly. Before this year is out, St. Luke’s should calculate and publicize our carbon footprint (perhaps using a methodology similar to that used by the Cool Air-Clean Planet Campus Carbon Calculator) and begin to lay out a strategy. (I should note that the School has published our carbon footprint in the past; however, this figure is no longer available and likely to be out-of-date, considering the two major additions that have taken place over the past four years.)

We should also explore the possibility of lighting and heating our school sustainably, taking advantage of companies like SunRun and SolarCity that will install solar panels on our roof for free, and then sell us the power generated at a reduced rate. We should also consider paying entities like TerraPass to offset the emissions we can’t reduce (it can cost as little as $13.12 per metric ton to offset greenhouse-gas emissions).

St. Luke’s has taken important steps already towards being a truly “green” institution – working with Flik and Sedexo, we have developed an enviable recycling program, and individual students have accomplished much as volunteers for environment causes. But this simply isn’t enough. As an institution, we need to take on far more ambitious goals, and in so doing become a role model for our fellow independent schools. If we don’t, we risk losing a lot more than class time.

— Sebastian Bates, Editor-in-Chief

Posted by on February 19, 2014. Filed under Op-Ed. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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