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Club emphasizes green initiatives

| Tuesday, February 18, 2014

As Kermit the Frog famously said, it’s not easy being green.

Nevertheless, a new group is working to push Notre Dame toward a green, sustainable future.

Juniors Katie Otterbeck and Garrett Blad started the “We Are 9” campaign in the fall with the overall goal of making Notre Dame a fossil fuel-free campus, Otterbeck said.

Otterbeck said the idea grew out of their shared involvement in the sustainability club GreeND and desire to do even more.

“We wanted to bring a more goal-oriented campaign to campus,” Otterbeck said.

Blad said the name “We Are 9” is drawn from United Nations projections about the global population in 2050 and the need to protect the environment for the people of that future.

“We’re trying to emphasize the human element and show the connection between the issues of justice and climate change,” he said. “We stand in solidarity with the nine billion people that will be on Earth by 2050.”

Under the overarching goal of a fossil fuel-free campus, the group is emphasizing fossil fuel divestment and carbon neutrality, Blad said. The group is currently focusing their efforts on achieving carbon neutrality.

Blad said the campaign is currently circulating a petition on their website that asks University President Fr. John Jenkins to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which has already been signed by more than 650 college and university presidents nationwide. Otterbeck said the online petition also presents the goals of the campaign and represents student support for those goals.

The group hopes to be able to submit the petition to the Office of the President by the end of the semester as a sign of student support for moving the campus toward carbon neutrality, Blad said.

Blad said another “We Are 9” project was a promotional video for the new group featuring 15 professors and student leaders from around campus. He said the group filmed in the fall and screened the video at their official campaign launch Feb. 7 in the LaFortune Student Center.

Otterbeck said the majority of the campaign’s efforts thus far have been devoted to bringing together various groups and individuals in the Notre Dame community concerned about sustainability.

“We’re gaining momentum all the time,” she said.

The “We Are 9” campaign has identified three “standpoints” that they use in their appeals to the University and members of the campus community, Otterbeck said. Preventing climate change is compelled by human compassion, Catholic identity and competition with other top-tier institutions, she said.

Otterbeck said her personal involvement stems from service work she performed in Africa while in high school, which involved teaching the students and teachers how to compost and recycle.

“My experience [in Africa] made me realize my passion for sustainability and environmental concerns,” she said. “I am involved in sustainability issues because I recognize the enormity of climate change as a problem around the world, a humanitarian issue.”

Catholic Social Teaching calls members of the Church and Catholic institutions like Notre Dame to protect the natural environment as a gift from God, Otterbeck said.

Notre Dame has fallen behind most other high-profile universities in terms of sustainability and environmentally conscious efforts, Otterbeck said. She said implementing the measures advocated by “We Are 9” would eliminate that disparity.

Blad said carbon neutrality is a realistic goal for any university of Notre Dame’s caliber.

“[Carbon neutrality] is relatively feasible on a college campus with the endowment we have, but we still burn coal on campus,” he said. “It is not a priority, so students should make it a priority.”

Blad said the next “We Are 9” event would be a screening of the documentary “Chasing Ice” on Feb. 27 in the Andrews Auditorium of Geddes Hall.

Otterbeck said more information and the online petition could be found on the group’s website: http://blogs.nd.edu/we-are-nine/

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About Christian Myers

Christian Myers is a senior at the University of Notre Dame from Chanhassen, Minnesota. He is a Program of Liberal Studies major and has worked at The Observer for four years.

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