Taking the eco initiative

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December 3, 2007

12:53 AM

In his Nov. 13 column “Don’t sign the PCC,” Andrew Peters gave an accurate description of the College’s environmental policy, or lack thereof.

p. He cited our grade of ‘D-’ in sustainability, our ever-increasing 60,000 tons of carbon emissions and the backward approach of our administration toward green initiatives. We also wholeheartedly agree with his characterization that global warming is humanitarian crisis of almost unimaginable proportions.

p. What we find baffling about his column is that, although he accepts the scientific consensus on global warming, he doesn’t want us to do our part by signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

p. It is entirely possible for the world to mitigate global warming, but only if every individual, institution and country makes an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. To agree that the climate is in crisis, but then to reject an effort toward effective action is hypocritical, ignorant and more than a little silly.

p. The PCC is the only sector-wide, voluntary initiative toward eliminating carbon emissions. Since its January launch, it has been signed by 437 universities of every size. The University of California system has signed, as have Cornell University, University of North Carolina and 13 Virginia institutions. These schools do not constitute a “climate change hegemony,” but a community of academic leaders who recognize the threat of global warming and who are prepared to do their part to combat it.

p. The first phase of signing the PCC, renovating existing buildings to make them more efficient, can be done at almost zero cost to the College. A 2005 renovation to William and Mary Hall cut the building’s energy bill $250,000 per year. Imagine renovating Tucker Hall or Morton Hall and practically paying for the project from the energy savings alone. Since 1990, our energy bills have doubled from under $3 million to more than $6 million. Insofar as efficiency is concerned, the question isn’t “can we afford to do this,” the question is “how can we afford not to.”

p. The second phase ­— switching our power source away from dirty coal plants to clean sources — will depend on the increasing availability of renewable energy in Virginia. For this, we are encouraged by Gov. Tim Kaine’s energy plan, Sen. John Warner’s climate bill and other pieces of legislation.

p. New technology that allows green power to be generated for less cost than coal also suggests that this isn’t an unrealistic expectation. In addition, a partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative gives PCC signatories access to $5 billion worth of funding mechanisms and discounts on green products from companies and banks.

p. While College President Gene Nichol and his administration stall on the PCC, we are missing out on these opportunities. Where we should have been a leader, we are now a latecomer and we may soon be left behind all together. We refuse to accept the inaction that has dominated the energy policy discussion at the College for too long. Our sense of responsibility for our own actions, our pride in our school as a leader in higher education and our concern for the well-being of our planet demand immediate action.

p. Unlike Peters, we do not see the involvement of the College in such humanitarian efforts as “troubling,” but rather as inspiring. We believe we speak for many when we say that the College’s greatest strength is not its frugal business model, but rather its selfless commitment to service — locally, nationally and globally.
We give our time and our passion, and we stand ready to take on the challenge of global climate change. We join the more than 1,000 students, more than 300 faculty and nearly 1,000 alumni to say “sign the Presidents Climate Commitment, President Nichol.” It is our only choice.

p. __Josh Wayland and Jake Reeder, co-facilitators of the Student Environmental Action Coalition, are a senior and junior at the College, respectively.__

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