Crafting a sustainable future at Notre Dame
BridgeND | Thursday, November 16, 2017
On Nov. 13, 2017, the Global Carbon Project released a report detailing expectations of a global rise in carbon dioxide emissions of approximately 2 percent. Because there was no growth in output between 2014 and 2016, some climate scientists believed that we had established a peak level of output. Now, however, there is renewed cause for concern, as scientists fear that Earth has entered another period of increasingly alarming growth in emissions.
In 2017, we are moving past the debate over whether climate change is real because as more and more evidence accumulates, it becomes ever more challenging to deny. There is merit, however, to the debate over what we can and should do as a result of climate change, given all of the implications of changing policy (loss of jobs in certain markets, raising prices for particular goods, and a whole list of other potential costs and benefits). Still, on balance, with the right policies, the benefits of addressing climate change will outweigh the harms.
The problem of global climate change, of course, has billions of contributors. Consequently, though, it also has billions of potential problem-solvers. If humanity is able to contribute to a problem, it is within our means to discover ways to mitigate the problem as well. It is crucial that the thousands of individuals who compose the Notre Dame community demand and enact changes on campus to forge a future rooted in sustainability and responsibility.
The catastrophic events of climate change have already hit close to home this school year, and we haven’t even reached the end of the semester. Even though climate change didn’t create the natural disasters of Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria, NASA, TIME Magazine, CNN and a variety of other outlets have all reported that the storms were strengthened as a result of our changing climate. As a university formed out of a national network of people, certainly including those from Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, the devastation of those storms has been carried in the hearts of our own students and faculty. As time goes on, the reality that we must face is that more and more students and their families will be impacted in a similarly tragic way. The Notre Dame family is strong: our prayers at mass, grab-and-go collections and online fundraising campaigns have been imperative to relief efforts, but these types of assistance don’t provide long-term solutions.
Notre Dame is unquestionably the nation’s leading Catholic university. It is no secret that we are equipped with an endowment nearing $12 billion. Not only do we have an expectation to be innovators on all fronts, especially including sustainability, we have a moral obligation to take action. We certainly have the means to make investments in green infrastructure that other institutions are simply unable to make. Care for creation and stewardship of the Earth are integral parts of Catholic Social Teaching. The United States is now the only country in the entire world who hasn’t committed to the standards established in the Paris Accords; even war-torn Syria joined in early November 2017. At a moment in history where standing proudly in affirmation of climate action is more necessary than it has ever been, with a depressingly complacent government in the face of clearly alarming problems, now is the time for Notre Dame to put our money where our mouth is.
Institutional changes are difficult to manage, especially because depending on the intricacy of plans, many different departments and individuals are involved in analysis and consideration. Difficulty managing bureaucracy, though, is not a sufficient excuse to justify stagnancy. Student Government in particular has been making strides, in cooperation with the Office of Sustainability and many other entities, when it comes to climate action. They have set goals to rely solely on renewable energy by 2050 through the development of solar and thermal energy with Notre Dame’s energy system, are working toward increasing accessibility to recycling options throughout campus (in dorms, outside and in academic buildings), and are trying to make Notre Dame a styrofoam-free campus by Spring 2018. These campus-wide policy components will require patience, grit and negotiation, but in the meantime, every single person on campus can play a role in making progress.
This community can only thrive when each its individual members accepts that he or she has a role to play. Whenever possible, choose products that don’t come in styrofoam packaging or cups. As Student Government works to make recycling more accessible and equitable with landfill disposal options, choose to walk a little bit further to a recycling bin to dispose of a bottle. Choose to think global and act local, choose personal responsibility and choose to safeguard Notre Dame’s reputation as a powerhouse for innovation by playing an individual role in the ushering in of a new era of sustainability.
Contact Kevin Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.