At Issue: Sustainability

At Issue: Sustainability

Worms, willows, energy costs, and global warming. During spring semester, the SLC community dug into the issue of climate change, discussing its scientific, political, and economic implications and taking practical steps to reduce the College’s carbon footprint, one CFL at a time.

Focus the Nation

Faced by the growing threat of global warming, Sarah Lawrence students are banding together to press for change—both on campus and in the greater community. Among them is Vrinda Manglik ’08, who helped organize the daylong Focus the Nation teach-in in January, part of a national effort that involved more than 1,700 college campuses. Manglik sees climate change as the biggest issue facing young people today. “Our generation has to face this head-on,” says Manglik. “We had a great day in January. The trick is to keep the momentum going.”

students wearing green streamers

Photo by Dan Bretl ’07

Green streamers and warm jackets made up the dress code for a January bike ride promoting alternative transportation.

The teach-in was led by Sustainable SLC, the student environmental group co-chaired by Justin Butler ’10 and Sam Lipschultz ’09. The day included an Earth ritual in the Sarah Lawrence woods, faculty panels, a clothing exchange, a reception with locally grown food, and a bike ride to show students that they could get around without expanding their carbon footprint.

The event also featured a light bulb exchange, in which students and staff could trade in incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents, which are four times as energy efficient.

At one of the faculty panels, environmental studies faculty member Karen Hoffman said that since the federal government has been reluctant to take action on climate change, it was up to states and localities to lead the movement to cut the emission of greenhouse gases.

“It has to be a movement from the bottom up,” she said.

Sarah Lawrence students have begun that movement on campus. During February, Sustainable SLC sponsored Footprint Forward Month, in which dorms and offices were competing to conserve energy and reduce their facility’s carbon footprint.

Students were urged to do simple things like turn off lights when leaving a room, do only a full load of laundry, turn off computers at night, unplug phone chargers when not in use, turn down thermostats, and take shorter showers.

Students say it’s also necessary to move beyond one’s personal actions to pressure policymakers to enact regulations that can cut greenhouse gases.

“It’s our responsibility to step up,” says Manglik. “Out of necessity, we have to respond.”

by David McKay Wilson

Getting Warmer...

Human beings are the cause of climate change on Earth, says Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences—but that means we can also be the cure. The question is, how?

“There is no single solution,” Cicerone told a packed audience at the Heimbold Visual Arts Center—a LEED-certified green building, fittingly—in February. “People are frozen by the enormity of global warming, and feel discouraged at not knowing how to solve the problem all at once.”

As an atmospheric scientist, Cicerone’s research has been fundamental to the current understanding of greenhouse gases and ozone depletion. Now he is involved in shaping science and environmental policy at the national and international level.

Ralph Cicerone

Photo by Chris Taggart

There are two approaches needed for survival, Cicerone said: mitigation and adaptation. To mitigate the damage that’s already been done, we need to find ways to slow the Earth’s heating, primarily by changing our energy production and farming practices.

But the climate change that’s already in motion can’t be stopped, he said, so we will still need to adapt to higher temperatures, altered coastlines, and erratic weather patterns. Scientists are studying ways to develop crops that are heat-, drought- and salt-resistant, build dikes to protect coastal areas, and harness energy produced by the wind and sun.

Cicerone gave a laundry list of approaches we can take to help get us on the road to recovery—everything from decreasing our dependency on foreign oil to minimizing local air pollution to switching to household appliances that consume less energy.

We can’t let ourselves be overwhelmed by the situation, he stressed. Lots of methods may yield only small energy savings, but taken together the improvements can be great.

“People haven’t gotten that message that there is no magic bullet. We have to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and we have to do it all very well,” Cicerone said.

by Connie Stambush MFA ’08