Don’t sign the PCC

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November 13, 2007

10:27 PM

College President Gene Nichol, to put it charitably, has a lot of folks giving him advice right now and, while I don’t necessarily want to rain on his parade, what’s another drop in a deluge?

p. As it stands, the College rates a ‘D-’ for environmental sustainability, every year churns out as much carbon dioxide as the entire nation of Chad and, in discussions of its response to both, most often elicits the term “laggard.”

p. When, then, will it finally be time to take action, to make a stand, to show our resolve by signing on American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment?

p. Certainly not now. Preferably never.

p. First and foremost, the use of tuition dollars for social activism, while evidently unavoidable, is troubling. And let’s not mince words — the fight against climate change is at its heart an activist movement. Economists fall on either side of the issue (discount rates, anyone?), but the rush to prevent Mali from becoming an annex of the Sahara or Bangladesh an arm of the Bay of Bengal centers almost exclusively on the humanitarian crises presented in either scenario.

p. Of course, the College can make both the business-minded and socially conscious camps happy by improving efficiency, but that would hardly sate the PCC and its acolytes. Climate neutrality, they urge, must be achieved “as soon as possible.” For as much as it gets touted, though, there’s no guarantee this meretricious mission would have a social or fiscal payoff.

p. To its credit, a proposal asking Nichol to sign the PCC makes a number of recommendations to increase campus efficiency (“greener” buildings, Energy Star electronics), but carbon neutrality remains the elephant in the room. Some of its other suggestions, however, such as lobbying Richmond to start buying the College green energy, bespeak a business model indistinguishable from shoveling cash into a furnace.

p. With our current electric bill of more than $3 million, the prospect of switching to green power, which costs twice as much, is frightening at the very least. Perhaps it would be more responsible to begin looking at the myriad causes that, dollar for dollar, can help more with less.

p. The fight against malaria is one such effort. Consider that the Stern Review — a British climate report that constitutes 15 of the first 25 citations in the proposal to Nichol — in its most liberal and academically criticized estimates, contends that in the year 2000 climate change accounted for around 90,000 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

p. Compare this figure to the anticipation that some 75,000 people in the same geographic area will die — every month — from malaria, most of them under the age of five. And closer to home, though the U.S. population is slightly more than two-fifths that of SSA, 112,000 die each year from obesity-related conditions. It’s unlikely Africans appreciate the irony.

p. Currently, the cheapest medicine for the microbial infection is cholorquine at 20 to 40 cents per course, but The Economist reported earlier this week that its effectiveness is rapidly waning. The second line drug is hugely expensive by comparison, on the order of about $5 to $8 per course. Outside money would help lower the cost.

p. Preventative measures exist, as well. An insect repellent-impregnated mosquito net runs about the same as one carbon credit, while also offering immediate, tangible and life-saving benefits.

p. It’s hard to fathom, then, how a mother in Namibia watching her child writhe feverishly could understand why we’d chosen to refuse helping her in favor of genuflecting before a movement unable to provide anything in her lifetime, or even that of her child.

p. Unfortunately, the fight against climate change has arrogated the status of supreme sociopolitical movement, no doubt because the effort’s evangelists preach an imminent and apocalyptic meltdown as the result of inaction. What will wilderness preservation matter if Middle America is once again the Great Inland Sea?

p. Atlantic University President David Hales, one of the PCC’s signatories, gives us an axiom to that effect. “If higher education is not relevant to solving the crisis of global warming, it is not relevant, period,” he says, eerily echoing Bush’s post-9/11 edict, “You are either with us or against us.”

p. It is time to take a stand of a different kind, to fly in the face of such heady proclamations and challenge the climate change hegemony. Carbon dioxide emissions are hardly the be-all and end-all of global stewardship, and bleating carbon neutrality is the opposite of a solution.

p. As one of the nation’s leading universities, we should resolve to seek the most effective — not necessarily the most popular — means of meeting today’s humanitarian crises. With that in mind, Nichol, responding to the PCC requires your paper shredder, not your pen.

p. __Andrew Peters is a junior at the College.__

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