The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary December 8, 2006

Let's Get Positive About Neutrality

Global warming is the single most important issue of our generation. As much as I care about the war in Iraq, torture and social security, there is nothing more important, more global or more dramatic than this threat to our planet. That is why Oberlin College, an institution with a history of being at the forefront of important progressive causes, needs to continue to take aggressive action on the issue.

So far we are doing an exemplary job. Last month President Nancy Dye signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, a pledge to develop a timeline for making our college climate neutral. Dye’s signature made Oberlin one of the first ten institutions to join the commitment. In the not-so-distant future, Oberlin College will not have a net output of carbon. 

The first step in this process will be developing a strategic plan for conservation, efficiency and behavioral changes to our use of energy. The recent conversion to compact fluorescent light bulbs in many college buildings is exactly the kind of start that we need on our journey towards climate neutrality, but we should really hasten our progress down this path.

Here is an example of a simple, immediate step towards reducing our carbon footprint:  Let’s turn down the heat in college buildings.

Lowering the thermostat by just a few degrees could cut down our energy consumption considerably. Besides, as most students know, Mudd is severely overheated in the winter.

But after these most obvious changes, the college will have to more seriously prove its dedication to combating climate change. We must take sustainability into account as we erect new buildings as part of the strategic plan.

Efficient construction may seem to cost more in the short run, but we must be willing to incur this expense with the knowledge that in the long run they may actually save us money as fossil fuels become more expensive — in addition to saving the world from heat-trapping gasses. It is crucial that we make this part of the College’s next capital campaign.

And the movement towards a sustainable campus will not only benefit the environment, it could also do wonders to help Oberlin’s reputation as a college. Our generation is increasingly concerned with environmental issues — as well it should be.

A truly sustainable campus could be a major selling point for the college, a feature that makes it distinct from Wesleyan, Bard and other comparable institutions. Furthermore, research in the field of sustainability will provide Oberlin students with access to cutting edge information about what is obviously the most crucial topic of our era.

So far the College is doing a very impressive job on the issue of climate change. My comments here are intended mostly as applause.

Let’s keep up the good work. But at the same time it is important that we remember to keep this issue a priority. Maybe in 100 years, we will be able to look back on our pledge of climate neutrality with the same pride we have for being the first college to accept African-American students.


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