Monday, May 26, 2008
Quick, quick showers: students make a life out of planet-sustaining practices
At Oberlin College’s new sustainability house — SEED, for Student Experiment in Ecological Design — one observes a microcosm of a growing sustainability movement on campuses nationwide, from small liberal arts colleges like Oberlin and Middlebury, in Vermont, to Lansing Community College in Michigan, to Morehouse in Atlanta, to public universities like the University of New Hampshire.
While previous generations focused on recycling and cleaning up rivers, these students want to combat global warming by figuring out ways to reduce carbon emissions in their own lives, starting with their own colleges. They also view the environment as broadly connected with social and economic issues, and their concerns include the displacement of low-income families after Hurricane Katrina and the creation of “green collar” jobs in places like the South Bronx.
The mission is serious and yet, like life at the Oberlin house, it blends idealism, hands-on practicality, laid-back community and fun.
“It’s not about telling people, ‘You have to do this, you have to do that,’ ” Mr. Brown said. “It’s about fitting sustainability into our own lives.” And hoping, he added, “that a friend will come over, recognize that it’s fun, start doing it, and then a friend of theirs will start doing it.”
With their professors as collaborators, and with their own technological and political savvy, students are persuading administrators to switch to fossil-free fuel on campus — Middlebury is building an $11 million wood-chip-powered plant, part of its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2016 — serve locally grown food in dining halls and make hybrid cars available for shared transportation when, say, the distance is too far to bike and there is no bus. Students are planting organic gardens and competing in dorm energy-use Olympics. At Oberlin last year, some students in the winning dorm did not shower for two weeks, officials said.
“This is a generation that is watching the world come undone,” said David Orr, a professor of environmental studies at Oberlin. Projects like the Oberlin house, he said, are “helping them understand how to stitch the world together again.”
More at How Green is the Campus?