January in Collegetown, USA is bleak: if it’s not bone-chillingly cold, it’s overcast and foggy. The days are short and the nights are long, and last week I spent $750 for one hundred or so gallons of oil to heat my home.
So I read with interest in this morning’s update from the Chronicle of Higher Education about tiny Unity College, way up in Maine, and its plan to build its curriculum around climate change. Unity is big into climate change, and last November its board of trustees voted to divest the College endowment from fossil fuels. In addition, staff and students alike are turning down thermostats, installing timers and smart strips (whatever they are), and taking time from classes to make the 100-mile trip south to Portland, traveling in a caravan of vans, to live the dream: No Tar Sands Pipeline in New England. No Tar Sands Development Anywhere!
If 560 students in central Maine want to eliminate fossil fuel, so be it. Perhaps the first step in realizing their agenda might be to transfer to a college located in an environment where the average winter lows are not in the teens. Another step might be to reduce their peripatetic carbon footprint. Apparently, Unity students are on the road. A lot. According to Unity’s own stats: Students come to Maine from 30 states to take advantage of internship sites in nearly 50 states and study-abroad opportunities in 23 countries.
Tsk, tsk, Unity students, says Elizabeth Rosenthal writing in the Sunday New York Times:
For many people reading this, air travel is their most serious environmental sin. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.
So if you take five long flights a year, they may well account for three-quarters of the emissions you create.
Think about that the next time you take an internship in the Castro District. Or apply to Unity when you live in Arizona.
Students aren’t the only folk high on sustainability at Unity. The college has signed on to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a remarkably democratic pledge taken by all manner, public and private, of two- and four-year colleges and universities. Only the private Ivies, along with Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Stanford and a handful of powerhouse liberal arts colleges–Amherst, Wellesley and Williams–seem not to have also signed on. Either they know something about the science of climate change the signatories do not or these institutions have reached the limits of their tolerance for feel-good hypocrisy. Or perhaps it’s just that their denizens did not want to get their hands dirty “participat[ing] in the Waste Minimization component of the national RecycleMania competition,” which is commitment No. 2.g of the pledge.
For those of you who think Miss has been mean to an earnest little college in Maine, I urge you to visit Unity College’s landing page for sustainability. Then check out the irony-free college shop, where you can purchase all manner of carbon-friendly license plates to help spread Unity’s gospel according to Saint Al.
Honk when you find the hypocrisies.