I turn the pages of each month’s Sierra Magazine with some trepidation, since the editors seem determined to scare the hell out of their readers by cataloging all of the dire consequences of human inattention to the health of our planet. On the other hand, I look forward once a year to reading their list of the “Green Colleges” that are helping to turn young minds toward a more responsible future. Sad to say, I have never noted either of my two alma maters listed on the pages of the magazine — which rates the top 100 colleges in the country. But the list is impressive, as are the steps that are being taken at some of the top schools in helping students learn about their responsibility to the planet. There is hope.
As the magazine notes,
“With each “Cool Schools” issue sent to press, we are reminded that LEED-certified buildings equipped with low-flow toilets and stocked with recycling bins push carbon dioxide levels lower and keep reservoirs fuller, landfills emptier, and trees standing longer.
But what of the students? The most powerful renewable energy resource these campuses generate is freshly educated young people. And colleges crow that instilling eco-literacy — teaching youths about the state of the planet — will put us on the right path. Will it, though?. . .The answer is yes.
The magazine features the top ten colleges, headed by the University of Connecticut where “nearly 600 sustainability classes are taught by some of the greenest minds anywhere — more than 40 percent of UConn’s research faculty does original academic work that benefits the environment.” And the students are very much involved. UConn is followed closely by Dickinson College, University of California at Davis, University of California at Irvine, Cornell University, Green Mountain College, Stanford University, Georgia Tech, American University, and the University of California at Santa Barbara.
The careful reader will note the presence on this list of a disproportionate number of California schools, where it seems students and faculties take their earthly responsibilities very seriously. The presence of only one Ivy League School — and only a couple more on the list of 100 schools at the end of the article — is sobering. Many of the allegedly prestigious colleges are conspicuous by their absence, including (as I say) Northwestern University where I received my advanced degrees. That is disheartening. One would think that being “Green” and being “Clean” are the sorts of things the schools that pride themselves on their academic reputations would aspire to. But apparently not. At least not yet.
But the things that many of these schools are doing are quite remarkable, from producing their own electricity with solar and wind generators, planting their own gardens to provide food on campus, collecting grease from local restaurants to produce biodiesel fuel to power the campus’ vehicle fleet, lowering greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 25 percent, committing millions of dollars to energy-conservation projects, and the like. At Dickinson College, for example, “the school will achieve zero net emissions by 2020, if all goes according to plan.”
These are serious steps taken by serious-minded folks who know the importance of helping to save a planet under siege by the oil and gas companies while the Congress looks the other way. Let’s hope these efforts will make effective inroads against further damage to the planet by those who simply do not care.