Climate of global change

By Timothy Den Herder-Thomas

In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten the sense that campus environmentalism has become a peripheral, yet ever-present part of campus life. While not as widely discussed as multiculturalism or the Coke ban, it is continually present, if only tangentially. The Mac Weekly has featured environmentalism with increasing frequency, to varying degrees of success. During the recent MCSG candidate debate, I heard one candidate argue that student action in the dorms needs to be augmented by work with administrators, while two other candidates cited the current work between students and administrators around environmentalism as an example of how they would bring change to campus. Everybody knows something is happening, but most are not really sure what.

By the time you pick up this paper, Mac Conservation and Renewable Energy Society’s (MacCARES) green roof will be finished on the Fishbowl, covering a black tar roof with green, as the Mac website so eloquently put it. Earlier this semester, we wrote a $10,000 P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) grant proposal to design and research a larger roof for next year on Kagin; Helen Warren from the Development Office (grant work) says she expects we will get it, especially with support from city government and college administration, such as Facilities Management.

We worked throughout the year to secure an investor in a 2.1 mega-watt wind turbine (in comparison, our existing turbine is 10 kilo-watts). While we have a great alternative, plans have been stalled not by a lack of feasibility, as may have been suggested (turbines are a booming business), but by a lack of supply due to high demand. Except for existing projects, turbines will probably be unavailable to us until 2008.

A general lack of political commitment to renewable energy on the state and federal level has discouraged wind energy developers from investing in the Midwest. Minnesota has enough economically recoverable wind to power ten times its needs or 15 percent of the nation. Yet, it is the nation’s third largest energy importer including coal, nuclear, and culturally and ecologically destructive Canadian large hydropower while generating less than 3 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Through MacCARES and Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), we organized a rally in a scant three weeks that brought around 80 Mac students, many by bike, to the capitol on March 27 for the 20 percent Renewable Electricity by 2020 Standard. Passage of this state bill would mean a long-term freeze on new coal or nuclear power in Minnesota and the rise of a renewable energy future.

Instead of getting Mac a turbine immediately, we’re pushing for a Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED) project, which entails investing as a community partner in a portion of a turbine, and gaining near 100 percent ownership of the turbine after 10 years. This would be the seed project for a much larger proposal: the Clean Energy Revolving Fund (CERF) which would finance sustainability initiatives through the savings of previous initiatives, a method that has yielded stunning 25%+ annual returns.

As the Minnesota coordinator, I helped launch the Minnesota College Energy Coalition through the Midwest Student Energy Conference, the first meeting of approximately 300 student activists from across the Midwest. The coalition met to confront the global challenges of climate disruptions and the energy crisis. A similar Northeast coalition established three years ago led to eight northeastern states implementing a carbon cap and trade programs that are much stronger than the Kyoto Protocol. While action is stalled federally, states, local communities, and everyday people worldwide are taking charge of the energy revolution.

That’s the ultimate goal for much of what we do: to demonstrate, promote, and inspire personal initiative towards the multi-level solutions to the global climate and energy crises which will unavoidably rock our personal, cultural, and ecological future. We are only plumbing the edges of the vast array of personal, cultural, technological, economic, and political strategies we must use. In addition to those mentioned, we work to improve heating and lighting, generate bio-diesel from cafeteria waste oil, install geothermal heating in the new athletics facility, increase bike use and reduce car dependency, reform Macalester’s waste management, sponsor the on-going Dorm Wars, educate, inspire, and network a local and regional environmental community, put on events including Earth Week, and more.

Who is this we' I keep referring to? I'm spear-heading some of this, so feel free to contact me, but the environmental community growing here is broad, deep, and diverse. It's on all kinds of decision levels, from flipping the light switch attached to a coal plant to designing the next green building to forging regional legislation.We’ at Macalester are students, faculty, administrators, staff, and off-campus community groups, businesses, organizations, and politicians; it’s community leaders across the globe. It’s us Macalester students-yep, you’re part of a roiling web of power-sharing interactions that will shape the world’s future and with it, your own.

Contact Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’09 at [email protected]