Some call it a “Green Revolution.” Or, as members of the far right fondly put it, “the return of those damn hippies.” Many simply consider it a fad that has crept into popularity, like riding scooters or being “emo.” Whatever you want to call it, there is no denying that issues of sustainability and environmental preservation have made their debut under the media’s spotlight. With the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen just around the corner, and the issue of climate legislation more pressing than ever, it seems that the environment has taken a seat alongside the economy and politics as one of the things we have to worry about on a daily basis.
Even if the scramble over climate change were a fad and scientists world wide were to announce that we actually have nothing to worry about, this column is here to stay. That’s because the purpose of this column is not to preach the same old message about recycling, shutting off the faucet, and flipping off the lights. In fact, there will be no preaching of any sort at all since I am hardly in a position to tell others how to live their lives. I will, however, attempt to be interestingly informative (though we’ve all had professors who promised similarly and failed to deliver) and maybe help you discover your inner-environmentalists by looking at sustainability from a more personal perspective.
Cheesy as it may sound, everyone is an environmentalist. Whether you are someone who signs countless petitions fighting against the construction of pulp mills in Tasmania or just someone who wakes up on a beautiful morning and frowns at the looming LA smog, everyone cares at least a little bit about the world in which they live. Arguments over whether the world is going to end due to climate change do not really matter when we realize that the more we protect the environment we inhabit, the more enjoyment it offers us and future generations.
“Going green” not only helps build a more sustainable human existence (and, according to cynics, offers a way for environmentalists to assuage their guilt or feel good about themselves), but it can also do wonders for the increasingly shallow pockets of nations, institutions, and individuals. If line or rack-drying your clothes yields both wrinkle-free results and savings of 50 cents per load, why even replay the climate change debate in your head as you whistle your favorite song while stretching your favorite vintage tee on a line under the blissful Californian sun?
The toughest thing about writing a “green” column is probably dealing with public perception. Many people see environmentalists as self-righteous hypocrites who place themselves on a high moral pedestal and who always judge others for not making enough personal sacrifices, all the while practicing what they preach rather inconsistently. That kind of pressure is too much for me to deal with, so I will simply declare now, once and for all, my inadequacies and failures as an environmentalist.
I drive an SUV (while I wish that my parents had the means to buy me a shiny new hybrid for college, they have yet to win the lottery or befriend Oprah). I have a mini-fridge in my room. I rather enjoy meat (though my taste buds rarely agree with how the dining halls cook it). Occasionally, I even use air conditioning when the heat gets a little unbearable. These are just a few examples, but as you can see, it is tough to be a perfect environmentalist.
It is, however, even harder to convince others that they should live as perfect environmentalists. Thankfully, that is not my goal. I print double-sided as often as I can. I don’t do laundry until I have full loads (usually when I run out of that last pair of boxers). I am always turning off light switches (in public places especially, despite past mishaps of leaving someone who was still on the can in the dark). I am sure many of you do all of the above, and even more of you go above and beyond in each of these areas. You are indeed environmentalists!
You may think that the small things we integrate easily into our daily lives and habits may not make a difference in the end, but imagine this: if everyone at the Claremont Colleges washed laundry with only cold water, 90 percent of the energy costs of washing with hot water could be saved. Multiplied across the campuses, that 90 percent energy savings could go an astonishingly long way. If Pomona decides to lower the AC and heater in many of its common spaces and academic buildings, maybe cuts in student work-study allotments wouldn’t be as significant.
However, Pomona has recently also done its fair share in implementing sustainability measures. Through Pomona’s Sustainability Integration Office’s (SIO) efforts and SIO Director Bowen Patterson Close’s hard work, a number of changes have “greenified” the campus in the past few months.
The number of laundry drying racks available for student check out has tripled. Hundreds of light fixtures have been retrofitted to be more efficient, while thousands more are in the works. At the end of last school year, Pomona donated 2,019 pieces of furniture to Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Jamaica. Over 3,100 square feet of Pomona’s beautiful, emblematic (yet ecologically unsound) grass turf have been torn out and replaced with almost equally attractive (but much more reasonable) mulch and drought-tolerant plants.The plant and turf watering schedule has been reduced, with no signs that such reductions will affect the appearance of the plants. Also, the SIO is looking at proposals for solar powered water heating for Haldeman Pool, and possibly Frank Dining Hall.
Claremont McKenna is just as adamant about moving toward a greener campus. The most recent lighting retrofit in McKenna Auditorium yielded over 20 percent in energy savings. A radio-controlled, computer based irrigation control project is underway, with the potential to reduce irrigation water use by 12 millions gallons each year. Water usage has been cut back by 60 percent with the installation of touch-control faucets.
Although exciting steps toward sustainability are being taken all around us, it is still up to us to decide where we fit into this big, green puzzle.