With three more days of the 5C PowerDown Challenge, Harvey Mudd College is currently leading with a 12.1 percent reduction in its energy consumption. In fact, as it stands now, all colleges except for Mudd have increased their energy consumption. While none of us are perfect environmentalists, these issues are of utmost importance, pertaining to more than simply turning off the lights, recycling your beer cans, or remembering your reusable bags at the grocery store. Sustainability is not about saving the planet; it is about survival. The problem is complex: a matter of economics, construction, corporate power, racism, displacement of indigenous groups, economics, business, and consumer culture.
One explanation for the PowerDown's disappointing results could be the overexposure of sustainability's surface issues (like fashionable recycled purses and trendy bamboo houseware) which paradoxically desensitizes us to climate change and promotes ignorance. The focus should be on externalized costs and the other complexities mentioned above. After years of participating in the challenge, the 5Cs should be getting better at this, not worse. Our patterns of behavior, as we continue to be educated at these institutions, should be manifesting in our day-to-day habits, not just for a short three weeks of the academic year. All of sustainability's complex factors aren't stopping anytime soon, so neither should any of us. PowerDown is a reminder of that.
The irony of Mudd's lead is not lost on us, considering that the other four schools are touted as being more politically and socially conscious. It is time to for the other 4Cs to follow Mudd’s lead by putting their money where their mouth is. Easy fixes—such as unplugging electronic devices that are not in use and turning off your lights when you leave your room—go a long way. It definitely won’t stop climate change anytime soon, but changing our bad energy habits isn't going to hurt anything either.