Sustainability: St. Lawrence is Green!
The caption above comes from the front page of the St. Lawrence University website and it’s misleading. Titles like this make you ask: what do the terms “sustainability” and “green” mean? I have been an environmental studies scholar for three years now and I still do not have a definite answer. I thought of naming this column something like “Green Speak” or “Green Times,” or even “SLU Conscious,” but none of them felt right or sounded cool. How could I have a title that speaks to environmental issues and our community without using that ambiguous, overused color, green?
The environmental movement cannot be color-coded. We want to save the snow, the rivers, the beaches, the swamps, the whole system, not just the green stuff. The environmental movement is defined by its ethic, its rights and wrongs and its foresight, its ability to determine effective solutions for the future. We do not aim to destroy the institutions that exist today. We aren’t seeking to be the enemy. We want to help by asking, “Is there a better, longer lasting, less harmful way?” Can we heat our homes with grass from the backyard instead of oil? Can our farm waste-products fuel our vehicles? Can we design products to be reusable instead of disposable? Can we make sure our children’s children will flourish in life as we do?
Sadly, the following scenario sounds pretty radical: Recognizing the rights of the rivers and forests, designing our human world to work with the natural, to become one with it, to co-exist and bring justice to those who threaten the right to existence. It will not, however, be radical in 150 years, when oil and coal sources are scarce or gone, when people are forced to realize that they live in a confined system, Earth. These future people, our grandchildren, will read history and comment on how our generation was presumptuous, even ridiculous, thinking we could go on living like this, eating food grown 3,000 miles away, laying in tanning beds, and, in the U.S.A., producing an astounding 337,707,205,000 pounds of municipal trash per year (a conservative estimate), enough to bury 500 Empire State Buildings in just 365 days.
For the sake of our generation, I say Green is not enough. Green is a cop out. For SLU, green is having bicycles on loan, emitting 19,000 tons of CO2 per year and building the LEED Gold certified Johnson Hall of Science which, ironically, uses the more electricity than any other structure on campus. According to the new SLU Dashboard, an electricity use monitoring system installed this year, Johnson, with 609,021 kWh used, tops Newell and ODY combined. They must be doing lots of experiments, hope they are working on lowering their energy use.
Despite my problems with LEED, I do think the Dashboard is going to help SLU be conscious of its energy use. Electricity, the life-blood of all our commodities, is not free. SLU Dashboard can tell you exactly how much energy you are responsible for consuming, how much it costs and how many pounds of CO2 are being emitted. In the last three months SLU has spent nearly a million dollars on electricity. For those of you who would rather have things explained in terms of money, that’s a f*%$ing lot. Check out Dashboard through the SLU Green Pages or in the Student Center.
How can we call ourselves sustainable if we heat our buildings with natural gas, a fossil fuel that will someday run out? Why are we not seriously considering biofuel? St. Lawrence needs to stop patting itself on the back and advertising to the world how green and sustainable it is and start acting. I love this place, St. Lawrence University, the scarlet and the brown, the intellectual community, the Amish buggies and rolling, isolated hills of the North Country, but this “green” hypocrisy doesn’t sit well with me or anyone else who sees it. Being environmentally conscious is not tagging your disposable water bottle with a “natural” sticker, it’s a fundamental shift in values and ethics. A revolution is not meant to be easy and this one is no exception. It requires hard work and perseverance. That’s why this column is entitled “Hammer Time” and not “Green Time.” A hammer is a versatile, sturdy tool. It can pry things apart and nail things together. A hammer feels good in the hand, purposeful, and it will be our symbol, because we are done talking about all of this. It is time to act, to swing, to pound and to work for a better community.
This is not a fight that’s split between parties, the rich, the poor, the Democrats, the Republicans. An environmental conscious will help us run our institution more effectively therefore benefiting everyone. SLU is a harbor for intellect and understanding. Why not use our ideas and ability for foresight to save money? Why not work with our community? Why not become a help, rather than a hindrance for the environment?
Here is what you can do. The hammer will swing on Thursday, April 21.. Fifty of your peers will be brandishing clipboards all across campus, knocking on doors, standing up in classes in attempt to get at least 50 percent of the student body to sign their name in agreement with the St. Lawrence University Climate Action Plan (SLU CAP). The CAP pledges carbon neutrality by 2040, which means we will offset as much carbon as we are responsible for producing (which will be significantly lower than 19,000 tons by then). This is an important first step. So get after it Saints! Get your friends to sign the petition. We need to let the trustees know that we demand positive, environmental and community-conscious change. We can be the leaders of the future. We just have to want it.
By MIKE PETRONI