This October over 200 faculty members at the University petitioned President Lee Bollinger to conclude his term by initiating a program to reduce the University”s greenhouse emissions. The petition asked that the University reduce emission levels to seven percent below 1990 levels in order to be in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. Unlike President George W. Bush, who has dismissed global warming concerns as based on “junk science,” Bollinger cannot simply ignore the concerns of his academic colleagues.

Bollinger responded to the petition by saying that the University had grown since 1997 and that the administration has no accurate records of the University”s 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels. If Bollinger is going to ignore the case for making the University environmentally sustainable, he needs to provide better reasons than these.

The 56 colleges and universities in New Jersey have joined together in the “New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability,” a partnership which strives to achieve the standards set forth by the Kyoto Protocol. Other major universities across the country have adopted concrete, Kyoto-based sustainability initiatives, including Brown, Dartmouth and Tufts. Just recently Cornell accepted a petition from faculty and students to comply with the Kyoto Protocol while companies and corporations such as IBM, DuPont, Royal Dutch/Shell, Suncor and Johnson and Johnson have already pledged to do the same.

Finally, in an action that calls to attention the strong student mandate for sustainability, the student government at the University of Colorado at Boulder passed an initiative to increase student fees by five dollars. The money will be applied directly to financing UC-Boulder”s shift toward the use of alternative energy sources.

It is clear that major universities and corporations are willing to take environmental sustainability issues seriously. While there certainly are some significant funding issues surrounding the completion of such an initiative, to take no action at all erases the progress of the streak of colleges and companies that have committed themselves to these goals and tacitly endorses complacency with the unacceptable environmental status quo.

Petitioners from a range of University departments and colleges have suggested many initiatives that the University is able and should be willing to investigate. These initiatives range from bringing more departments into the Energy Star Program to buying alternative fuels and installing renewable energy systems on campus buildings.

This demonstrates the commitment many faculty members have to a program that would greatly enhance and give overall structure to the University”s current environmental programs. While various faculty members back the petition for the University to become compliant with the Kyoto Protocol, the administration”s tepid response indicates that broader backing is needed to bring attention to this initiative.

Students on campus can make a tangible and long-term impact on the environment by backing the staff”s initiative and petitioning Bollinger and his successor to act on these initiatives. The student group at the forefront of the movement towards sustainability, Sustain U-M, has online petitions and a function that allows students to send a letter expressing the need for environmental long-term planning to the University Board of Regents at www.umich.edu/usustain/.

Besides the long term goals, including compliance with Kyoto protocol, Sustain U-M proposes some relatively quick and easy solutions to some of the University”s environmental problems. These include directing the University”s investments toward green companies, changing student energy consumption habits and hiring a sustainability coordinator to focus the currently disjointed efforts to make our university greener.

Bollinger not only has an opportunity to improve his legacy at the University by setting a positive environmental tone for Interim President Joseph B. White and his predecessors, but also to make the University an example of environmental responsibility for corporations and colleges alike.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.