Ancient radiators flush heat into crowded rooms in May, sprinklers surge up from the Old Campus in the pouring rain, gas-powered leaf blowers hum in the September sun, a grounds employee pours latex paint into the drain near a soccer field, piles of wasted food slosh down into a gulping sink disposal, the light from our dormitories, classrooms and dining halls stains the sky orange and blocks all but the brightest stars — is this the face of the environment at Yale?
An environmentally sustainable university manages its systems — material, human and financial — to contribute to the long-term health of the planet. Sustainability simply means meeting our own needs while preserving the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
For a college campus, this means two things. First, the university must respect the fragility of the earth as an ecosystem and use its resources responsibly. Think of emissions, water use and buildings. Second, it must fulfill its role as an educational institution, endowing people with a strong sense of their connection to the global environment. Is Yale churning out responsible global citizens prepared to sustain the planet?
Derided in the Chronicle of Higher Education as “an environment leader by no means,” ranked below Harvard and Princeton in terms of its waste management and general environmental policies, Yale has been repeatedly slammed as an environmental loser.
Let’s take a closer look. There are good things: a new environmental studies major, a new Provost standing committee on the environment, a state-of-the-art co-generation plant, a motion-sensor lighting program that saves Yale $800,000 every year and a strong student recycling program are some good steps forward.
But the word on the street is sound — Yale disappoints. Deemed unseemly, recycling bins are not allowed in classrooms, entryways or on college pathways. Berkeley College consumes 92 percent more energy after renovations than it did before. Students throw out at least 1,000 pounds of edible food everyday. Carbon emissions are 44 percent above Kyoto standards. The gas-capable Central Power Plant burned oil (the nastiest stuff) all winter. Our campus recycling rate hovers at a dastardly 20 percent.
The competition, meanwhile, has fared very well. Oberlin College has built a beautiful environmental center, which exports energy to the rest of the campus. Tufts has committed to reducing their carbon emissions in accordance with Kyoto Protocol levels. Brown students tend an organic garden and enjoy a state-of-the-art green building. Middlebury’s recycling rate is steady at 68 percent. Harvard, bless its soul, has established a fund to support cost-saving environmental design projects.
The big kicker at Yale is our lack of an environmental policy, a lack of commitment from the Yale Corporation and a failure to adequately involve members of the Yale community in shaping the campus’ future. Students have never been acknowledged as important architects of the school’s future. The student-authored Green Plan, an exhaustive set of suggestions for Yale’s environmental future, apparently merited no response from the university.
Yale should unite its community in a mission to green the University. First, University officials should commit, in a formal declaration, to a vision of an environmentally sustainable campus. But words are not enough. Second, Yale should empower its students, faculty and staff to become active participants in the campus’ future by creating an Environmental Stewardship Committee with real advisory powers.
Next, Yale needs to draft, ratify and implement a broad-based, detailed environmental policy covering all campus sectors. Only a committee of diverse community members could effectively implement such a policy throughout all parts of Yale.
As the first concrete evidence of global warming stuns the stodgiest skeptics and as the world’s population catapults well above six billion, the Yale campus and community should be flooded with green. In the classroom, forest, frat-house, theater, sports field, dance hall, dining hall, power plant, library and laboratory, Yale University should exercise its potential to promote and maintain a more diverse, ethical and environmentally sustainable campus.
Students must come together in a united student voice and realize their potential to actively shape the future of this university — otherwise, real change is impossible. Altering the face of the environment at Yale will take time, but sustained efforts can create permanent change.
Ian Lindsey Cheney is a junior in Berkeley College. He is co-chair of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and director of the Yale Sustainability Initiative.