Opinions, Column

Changing The Campus Climate On Climate Change

The verdict is in on climate change—it’s happening, it’s a major problem, and everyone, from policymakers to Boston College students to university administrations, needs to act.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on Nov. 1 on the urgency of climate change. Unless adjustments are made to address the warming of the planet, the rising sea levels, melting icecaps, and warming atmosphere will worsen, and these effects can hurt food security, lead to health problems, and intensify poverty, among other issues.

Some of these things are inevitable, but if we don’t try to mitigate the damages we have caused as soon as possible, “warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally,” according to the report.

Doing something and saving the environment is easier said than done, however. Political gridlock is bad in the U.S., but it is even worse on the world stage, as countries jockey to protect their own interests rather than those of the planet.
Therefore, we cannot leave it to policymakers alone to address the challenges that climate change creates—we must try to “do something” on as grand of a scale as we can.

As students, most of us create a massive amount of waste, and we need to understand why. From conversations with fellow students, I have found that many of us create so much waste because we are uncertain about what to recycle. If this Odwalla bottle has some juice in it, is it recyclable? What about this banana peel, should I just throw it in the trash?

I am often confused myself. What do I do with this empty potato chip bag? I probably can’t recycle this, right? I typically end up putting the empty bag in my pocket and Googling what to do with it when I get back to my apartment, but often, I forget and have pockets full of empty wrappers. When facing the same dilemma, many people just throw everything in the trash without thinking. The best way to address this confusion is to educate about recycling and sustainability.

In terms of recycling, BC does some things well. Although I remain skeptical about the efficiency of the waste management process in Lower, the school does encourage recycling at other places around campus. There are also initiatives targeting energy and water consumption, and five buildings have LEED certification, which shows that a building meets certain environmental specifications.

Despite what the University is doing right, I’m convinced that it could be doing more. Yes, the recycling labeling is clear in Hillside, but the labeling in other dining halls is inconsistent. Yes, five buildings are LEED certified, but they only received silver ratings, when they could have been rated gold or platinum.

The University could be open about whether it invests in fossil fuel companies, divest from these companies if it does, and begin reducing its dependence on this source of energy. The push to divest from fossil fuels is underway at universities across the country, and Climate Justice is leading the charge at BC this year, but along with BC, most seem unwilling to act on climate change.

This inability to act is so frustrating because colleges and universities should be at the forefront of movements that have scientifically supported objectively positive impacts on the environment. BC attempts to be a university of men and women for others, but it can’t also be a university of men and women for the environment.

There are several arguments made against divestment. It could hurt the school’s financial resources. A university’s endowment should be separate from its mission. One university’s divestment wouldn’t dramatically help the environmaent, so it’s not worth it.

These arguments don’t hold much weight, though. Although divesting might hurt the endowment in the short term, investing in companies that are not sustainable in the long run is not practical, and the whole purpose of the endowment is “to support the institutional mission and operations of the University over the long term.” Although divestment might not have a huge impact, it is better than continuing to support unethical companies that are antithetical to the University’s values.

If BC wants to be a leading university, it needs to take a stance against climate change and leverage its resources—including its endowment—to actually do something.

Featured Image by Jordan Pentaleri / Heights Editor

November 9, 2014