Education is key to energy conservation

With an eye to the initiative aiming to cut 10 percent from Yale’s 1990 level of greenhouse gas emissions within 15 years, the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership has begun re-evaluating its campaign to reduce energy consumption by 5 percent this year. STEP has used study breaks, canvassing and even a “Yale Unplugged” concert to encourage heat and power savings, and University energy use has decreased by 1 percent this year — a commendable change for an institution of Yale’s size.

Still, the campaign seems unlikely to meet the group’s stated goal. While the reduction seems to reflect some change in student habits, students and administrators can do more to increase awareness of the need for energy reduction and take steps to further that effort.

Certainly, few students seem philosophically opposed to flipping the light switch as they leave their rooms for class or dinner, or to turning the heat off before vacation. STEP coordinators and Yale officials should continue to impress upon students that minor efforts can, in the aggregate, result in substantially lower energy use, especially as a longer vacation approaches. Many students seemed unaware of the campaign to unplug appliances over Thanksgiving; an e-mail from either party would likely have had some effect.

That said, such a campaign should understand its limitations. While e-mails and study breaks offer valuable educational conduits, door-to-door canvassing seems less effective. As the Ward 1 race illustrated, such tactics may even be counterproductive. Additional concerts and other public events can limit the need for more intrusive campaigning.

To truly effect change, though, STEP and the University must translate the energy reduction campaign into pressing student concerns. Since housing fees do not fluctuate based on utilities costs, the impact that energy usage has on the environment or Yale’s budget remains easy to ignore.

We are not advocating the implementation of a utilities price structure, which would be distinctly inequitable among different residential colleges. Students who live in rooms with broken thermostats or in colleges with central heating have no way to reduce their heat consumption.

Yale can directly reduce energy costs in the long term by replacing damaged thermostats and eliminating central heating systems from student housing. Centralized systems seem especially wasteful, since temperatures vary widely throughout residential colleges, and a quick survey of colleges with such systems reveals many windows consistently open to vent excessive heat from student rooms.

Perhaps more importantly, finance officials should work to define specific effects of energy conservation on Yale programs. While programmatic funding is not as simple as a transfer between departments, an attempt to determine the effect of rising energy costs on tuition or to identify programs that could receive funds saved from energy conservation seems likely to offer students distinct incentives.

While their progress and goals are admirable, campus conservation advocates still have yet to offer students compelling reasons to consistently keep their energy use in mind. If Yale’s larger initiative is to succeed, students must know that their efforts can lead to tangible results.

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