BY KOBELAH BENNAH
There is a disconnect between what most people think about environmental change and what some people choose to do. The problem, as we academic sophisticates love to say, seems to be a lack of education.Most people understand that our global environment is changing and that the problem is man-made. The point is almost beyond debate. The UN-commissioned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.”
They won a Nobel Prize for that.Most people also want something to be done about the problem. According to a recent Stanford/ABC poll, 84% of Americans want a great deal or a lot to be done by President Bush, the U.S. Congress, American businesses, and/or the American public.
Many people, however, don’t seem to fully appreciate their own capacity to personally impact the problem. Environmental responsibility entails more than simply recycling cans, bottles, and newspapers. For example, did you know that American produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from its origin before it lands on your plate? Buying food produced locally reduces the fossil fuel emission produced while transporting your veggies.
There are hundreds of small things like this that we can do to help protect the environment. Luckily, Harvard is making them easy to learn by sponsoring programs that teach environmental responsibility to students in small, positively reinforced doses.
Presently, HLS’s Green Living organization is sponsoring two such programs. First, is the Harvard University Sustainability Pledge. For the past five years, the University has asked students to annually commit to a few, simple earth-saving tasks of their choice in return for a reciprocal commitment on the part of the University. Students are encouraged to visit http://www.greencampus.harvard.edu/pledge/ and pledge to fulfill at least 3 commitments. Examples include turning your computer off each night and taking shorter showers– easy peasy. The pledge only takes a few seconds and Harvard donates $1.50 towards sustainable campus energy for every one received. Last year, the pledges of more than 7,000 students, faculty, and staff encouraged Harvard to donate more than $10,000.00.
The second project Green Living is currently sponsoring is the HLS Dorm energy competition. HLS Dorms are competing to determine which can save the most electricity. The winning dorm will receive either a dinner with Al Gore or a dorm-wide pizza party. I’m not sure what the organizers settled on. In any event, as you can see, HLS Green Living is trying to make environmental responsibility easy and fun for busy students. As if preventing a spiral towards global meltdown isn’t encouraging enough, they’re providing the added incentive of a dinner date with one of the most influential environmentalists of our time, or free pizza.
Given what we know about the environment and how easy it is to help, I’m not sure why some students are still reticent to hop on the Green bandwagon. To think of environmental responsibility as the “tree-huggers'” problem or the pet-project of the rich is so 1997. Environmental change is everyone’s problem, and everyone should be doing their part. And yes, that includes a busy law student reading a student publication. So join the club. Join those who are doing something about climate change. You can start by recycling this paper.
Kobelah Bennah is a Green Living Representative.