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Calling all humans: A greener ND

Guest Columnist | Sunday, April 15, 2007

As one of my best friends put it, I’m something of a human robot. I’m not particularly fond of children, the outdoors, racy fiction, major holidays, physical affection or politics. The only topics I regard with interest usually involve celebrity hijinks. So why am I writing a Viewpoint column that has nothing to do with Fergie’s striking resemblance to Bret Michaels? I blame the CSC. Not only did the Washington Seminar make me spend my spring break discussing global climate change and debating the viability of a sustainable energy model, but it also made one of the last great human robots care about the environment and Notre Dame’s role in building a greener future. Upon returning to campus, I wanted to find ways to advance green initiatives on campus, but I wasn’t completely sure if such avenues existed. Worse, I wondered whether progressive student groups would be open to help from a bumbling, slightly frigid novice.

Prior to my post-seminar sleuthing, I doubted that the administration had any real interest in promoting conservation. Although the proposed changes are not radical, the administration is slowly beginning to address sustainability. For example, Notre Dame is considering LEED certification for all future campus buildings and debating the installation of solar panels on the roof of the new engineering hall. If the plans are approved, photovoltaic panels could provide 100 kilovolts of power for the building, which is enough energy for three average-sized homes. Moreover, the administration is exploring ways to educate incoming freshmen about energy conservation without adding to an already crowded Frosh-O schedule. The administration’s Energy and Environmental Issues Committee, which advises Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, assembles the University’s sustainability practices and forges collaborations with other offices. They have already worked with Food Services to offer sustainable seafood. The Committee is currently instituting a pilot Calories to Kilowatts (C2K) program in a few dorm gyms so that the energy produced by our frantic peddling can charge our cell phones and iPods. Notre Dame also sponsors the new Energy Center Student Advisory Board, a new organization which coordinates the student dimensions of the Energy Center. They advertise energy-related courses on the web and seek to sponsor tours of the Notre Dame Power Plant and other energy-generating facilities. Unfortunately, these facts are rarely advertised, perhaps because those promoting these efforts feel that most students will not care. By showing interest in their ideas and by advocating for greater transparency and further change, we can prompt the administration to continue efforts to increase Notre Dame’s sustainability.

Fortunately, several student groups can help concerned students interact with the administration. Students for Environmental Action will be sponsoring a week of ecological awareness in anticipation of Earth Day, Sunday, April 22. This past Saturday, they participated in Step It Up!, the first-ever National Day of Climate Action. As part of the rally, which called for cuts in carbon emissions, local environmental groups were speaking and sponsoring fun, educational activities. Other 100-percent-organic events for the week include a renewable energy demonstration on South Quad, a tree planting and neighborhood cleanup in South Bend and a Mass for the environment said at the Grotto by Father Paul Kollman. The Biology Club recently sponsored a forum on An Inconvenient Truth and is now designing an energy consumption survey for the student body. The Arts and Letters environmental committee is pushing for an ECO Plunge, the energy-concerns equivalent of Urban Plunge. The Center for Social Concerns plans to offer a paid position for an in-house sustainability coordinator so that all CSC events are eco-friendly. The Washington Seminar on Energy and the Environment, which may become a permanent CSC seminar, will conduct forums with administrative leaders and student activists in order to present recommendations based on their experiences with senators, lobbyists, researchers and interest groups in D.C. They are also launching a campaign to unite representatives from student groups into a task force committed to energy and environmental concerns. All of these groups want our help, our input and our passion. Most of all, they want our creative solutions.

Here’s where you come in. Despite my newfound interest in sustainability, I’m still overcoming my robotic tendencies. I haven’t spoken to a child in three years, and I’ve only recently learned how to properly administer a hug. I may care slightly more about the environment post-CSC seminar, but I’m still deeply suspicious of jaywalkers and those who prefer Chicago standards to MLA. Student groups need the innovative ideas and out-of-the-box solutions that only the fully human can provide.

Alana Stelton is a junior English and Philosophy major. She can be contacted at astelton@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.