By JENNIFER DE SHIELDS
Samantha Hires, a junior at Ramapo College, didn’t really do much out of the ordinary for the environment. Then she got a job at Ramapo Recycling, and soon her attitude about the environment changed.
“It has changed my awareness of what is recyclable and what isn’t. It’s made me more aware of the amount of things that can actually be recycled instead of just thrown away. My thinking before was that myself recycling wouldn’t make a big impact on things, but there are a lot of everyday things we use that can be recycled.”
This story isn’t uncommon, people are doing more and more things to help the environment. Today, consumers are using fluorescent light bulbs, swapping their plastic bags at the grocery store for re-usable totes and are recycling more. The term going green is used a lot, but do people even really know what that means?
“Going green is basically a simple way of saying that you’re moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle and that transition is actually happening.” says Professor Michael R. Edelstein, the head of The Institute of Environmental Studies and the convener
of the environmental studies major. “We’ve entered a new period I like to call the greening because more and more people are striving to lead more sustainable lifestyles. Because the word sustainability doesn’t receive much understanding and use until recently, the term green was used as a shortcut term to describe it all.”
The Real Inconvenient Truth
Concern about the environment has been growing over the past few years due to the research and data that’s coming out about global warming. The results are alarming, the Earth’s temperature has gone up 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880 and much of the increase has happened in recent decades. Colder regions in the world, like the polar regions and Western Canada and Eastern Russia, have risen almost double that amount.
A degree or two may not sound like much, but the effects it has on climate and weather patterns is staggering. Climate change has contributed to extreme weather events like wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes. Coral reefs, which are very sensitive to even the slightest temperature change, have been dying off in droves. Glaciers and Arctic ice have been melting at a high rate. The melting has been so serious that Switzerland and Italy are redrawing their borders due to glaciers melting in the Alps.
Global warming is a serious problem, but in no way is it a new problem. Scientists have been worried about the problem for decades, and now that the effects are showing people are finally getting a wake-up call. Dr. Emma Rainforth, a professor of environmental science and the head of the Sharp Sustainability Education Center, blames the lack of involvement from people on misinformation.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there. We’ve got powerful lobbying companies that are pro big business who don’t want to see any change so they can keep their profits. Even two years ago there was a group of retired military generals that gave a report to the Bush administration, and even the Pentagon said the same thing, that climate change was the biggest threat to national security in the 20th century.”
The college is striving towards climate neutrality, which means that eventually the college will have no net greenhouse emissions. There are several ways people can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA even has an emissions calculator people can use to determine their gas output. Reducing emissions can primarily be achieved by energy conservation, using renewable energy and carbon offsets. The college plans on doing this by exploring renewable energy resources, increasing recycling, and finding new ways to save energy in the buildings and transportation.
Ramapo isn’t the only college striving for that goal; this is part of bigger organization. The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment was formed by other higher education facilities that expressed concerns about global warming. Joining this organization meant that President Mercer had to signed an agreement stating he would do whatever needed to be done to eliminate greenhouse emissions from the college.
When President Mercer signed the commitment, he created the Climate Commitment Task Force. This committee of people will develop then implement an institutional plan of action for the college to become climate neutral.
Edelstein sees the commitment towards reducing greenhouse gasses as a huge step forward for Ramapo.
“When President Mercer signed the Climate Commitment form in late 2007 it was a major leap forward mainly because he didn’t just sign it, he actually meant it.” said Edelstein. “He is preceded in good faith to begin to transform a lot of the ways we do things in a sustainable direction.”
The Sharp Sustainability Education Center, which is located by the Village and is slated to open in Fall 2009, may be the college’s biggest green development. The center is on the cutting edge of eco-friendly living. A geothermal field has been installed which will provide heating and cooling for the center. Water-saving toilets are in all of the bathrooms, the men’s room even has a waterless urinal. In the future the center will have a solar green house, that will teach students how to garden and will even yield crops in the winter months. The landscape of the building will have various permaculture plants that will teach students about how important plants are to the environment and how plants, terrain, and climate all work together.
The Sharp Sustainability Center won’t be the only place at Ramapo that’s teaching students how to eat green. The Havemeyer Garden, located right on the presidential residence, teaches students about sustainable food and good nutrition.
The program started when President Mercer and his wife, Jackie-Ehlert, moved to the college in 2005. The couple noticed the need for education against obesity in higher education institutions. This combined with Ehlert’s interest in sustainable eating and her professional background as a registered dietitian led to the idea of a sustainable garden on campus. The garden was officially founded in spring of 2006 and is run entirely by volunteers.
Many of these programs and centers were implemented because of student involvement. Ramapo College joined The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment because of involvement from Environmental Alliance and a group of students. A student in an environmental studies class who wanted to see more sustainable programs on campus formed the Ramapo recycling program.
Edelstein believes that student involvement is important and a major step in living a more sustainable future.
“The general student body has really come alive with issues like this.” said Edelstein. “Before we’ve always had a core group of people but now more and more students are caring about the environment, and really that’s the most important part of social change, involvement.”
Ramapo may have a few projects already planned, but there are still other things the college could be doing to make it a more sustainable place. Due to the college’s flat roofs, some people believe that solar power is the next way to go. Not only would it be good for the environment, but it would also save Ramapo some money on its energy bill. According to Edelstein, solar power is a possible and doable option for Ramapo.
“In recent past the faculty approved a plan to bring solar energy to Ramapo and to create a solar roof project. That project has never been done. It’s still out there, it’s been personally implemented on the front end but we’ve never done it. We’re a flat roofed institution, there’s no reason what so ever why we aren’t generating all of our energy from the sun.”
These green projects are not only helping the environment, they’re also helping the future look brighter. Digna Ovideo, a junior at the college, believes that students will set the bar for older and future generations.
“It’s a good way to start, we’re college students and we’re the future of society. One day we’re going to have kids, and we need to set an example for them and also the older generation since they didn’t grow up with these ideals. We need to do this so maybe the future will be better.”