College Students Going Green

Blog Commentary

A group of students at Ohio’s Oberlin College are demonstrating leadership in efforts to reduce carbon emissions. With so many efforts to educate the public about global warming being dismissed as political stunts by liberals, it’s nice to see common sense thinking from our young people.

The New York Times highlights one effort at a new sustainability house — SEED, for Student Experiment in Ecological Design — at Oberlin. The students time their showers, earning bragging rights when they’re the first to turn the water off:

Lucas Brown, a junior at Oberlin College here, was still wet from the shower the other morning as he entered his score on the neon green message board next to the bathroom sink: Three minutes, according to the plastic hourglass timer inside the shower. Two minutes faster than the morning before. One minute faster than two of his housemates.

Mr. Brown, a 21-year-old economics major, recalled the marathon runner who lived in the house last semester, saying: “He came out of the shower one morning and yelled out: ‘Two minutes 18 seconds. Beat that, Lucas!’ ”

The concept is billed as a sustainability house — SEED, for Student Experiment in Ecological Design — “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,” according to the NYTimes.

“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.”

And, sorry, Jon Stewart, the students do not watch television. In fact, it sounds like they decided to put into practice what many teach. For example, they’ve decided to unplug one of the house refrigerators, further reducing their carbon footprint.

The unplugging of the refrigerator was not so easy. The house is divided in two, and each half has a kitchen. With everyone eating meals at a nearby student-run co-op, a decision was made to save energy by disconnecting the refrigerator and appliances in one kitchen. But which one?

“The fridge was kind of controversial,” Ms. Bob-Waksberg said. “We kind of had a little feud going on for a while. We talked it out.”

These students are simply demonstrating leadership in an area that is still new to many adults.

My high school students are not so easily convinced that global warming is real. Much of this, I’m sure,  is due to the influence of parents, who see global warming as a completely political issue.

But to what end, I wonder? Why would the overwhelming majority of scientists, who, incidentally, are not paid by oil companies, speak with such a unified voice that we need to take steps to save our planet now?

Any discussions I’ve had with people who are not convinced about the reality of global warming inevitably turn to arguments economic — not scientific. Serious acknowledgment of the reality of global warming, after all, would mean reconsideration of our national policies on energy, and, specifically, on oil. We could not have this discussion without seriously reconsidering our national policies on oil.

But we must have this conversation.  A colleague at work, an astrophysicist, tells me global warming is not a matter of "belief."  It’s a fact with which we must contend.