May 2, 2008

McNear wrong about Earth Week

Claire McNear’s op-ed about the U of C’s Earth Week celebration last week (“Seven-Day Activists,” 4/29/08) reflected a fairly poor understanding of Earth Week and its aims. In the first place, Earth Week activities on campus were organized by a broad coalition of environmental groups, each with their own interests and goals. The Sustainability Council was the most visible of these groups, but the Council, which is not an “activist organization” but rather a twice-quarterly forum where students, faculty, and administrative and facilities staff meet to discuss and implement sustainable solutions to campus issues, was not responsible for all of the Earth Week programming, including the move to cover up trays in the dining halls.

Since its inception just a few years ago, the Sustainability Council has had a profound effect on the University. The recent hiring of a Sustainability Coordinator for the University (an area in which we lagged several years beyond our peer institutions) is in itself evidence that things are not back to “business as usual.” I agree that most U of C students are apathetic when it comes to progressive issues, but it simply isn’t true that the student body was unresponsive to Earth Week events.

Hundreds of students who were presumably very busy writing Sosc papers, finishing problem sets, or editing their B.A. theses still managed to attend several events specifically designed to help them make lasting, long-term impacts on the environment. There may be no “influx of solar panels,” but students were plenty interested in the student-built wind turbine display on the quads. Those who sat in for the “Diet and the Environment” panel were indeed interested in eating locally.

Professor Cass Sunstein’s Earth Day talk at the Law School about federal environmental policy was filled to seating capacity. Students who attended the “Greening Your Apartment” workshop will slash up to 75-percent of their electricity consumption by switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. The 60 members of the University community who picked up vermiculture composting bins will reduce their solid waste production by up to 20-percent, and have pledged to donate the next generation of worms to others, multiplying the environmental effect of this one action severalfold over the next few years.

Had McNear attended any of the Earth Week events, I think it would have been clear to her both that U of C students are interested in the environment and that the programmatic value of these events extended far beyond the five days of Earth Week itself.

Liz Selbst

Class of 2008

Co-Chair, Green Campus Initiative