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Forum examines price for going green

Robert Singer | Thursday, October 2, 2008

People’s physical environment, health and standard of living are all hurt by climate change and the lack of sustainable energy sources, GreeND vice president Colleen Kelly said Wednesday at “The Price of Going Green for the Poor,” a forum sponsored by Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS).

“The U.S. has only five percent of the world’s population, but we emit 25 percent of all pollution,” Kelly said. “A lot of people are adversely affected who are not contributing to the problem.”

The MSPS dinner and forum focused on how different levels of initiative – individual, business, and national – can work to achieve a more sustainable environment.

The forum discussed the ways that individuals can decrease their energy use and work toward a sustainable environment. Driving less, being conscious of food consumption and using energy-efficient light bulbs were methods mentioned.

Notre Dame students, Kelly said, waste an average of five ounces of food every dining hall meal.

Kelly started the discussion by asking the question: “What can we do for Notre Dame and what can we do as citizens?”

It is a “global commons problem,” Kelly said, because when we pollute, we do not necessarily bear the costs of our actions. But if we do not change our behavior, in the long-term, she said, the worldwide effects will be devastating.

The economic incentive to save energy costs is changing how businesses operate, Kelly said.

“Businesses are actually making money by going green,” she said.

But the incentive is not yet there for many businesses, so Kelly suggested that legislation might be a necessary part of the solution.

A “cap and trade” program would issue pollution permits that allotted a set amount of carbon emissions to each business, Kelly said. Businesses would then buy and sell these permits, according to the amount of pollution they intended to release.

Kelly described the program as “harnessing the market to solve something complicated.”

The forum discussed other ways that environmental and energy problems can be solved on the national level. Changes to infrastructure and city planning, according to several participants, will be central to adapting the United States to an economy based on sustainable energy.

Freshman Mark Easley pointed out that by building more public transit systems, the United States could rely less on cars.

“America needs to move to trains,” he said. “There’s the example of Europe and Japan switching to the more efficient trains.”

Other participants made the case that towns and cities in the United States should be planned around the goal of making transportation easy and efficient, commenting that people should be able to walk to work or the supermarket.