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Recently, I was disappointed to learn that my Alma Mater, Wesleyan University – the poster child for social responsibility and political activism – is not living up to their green responsibilities. Fellow New England small colleges Middlebury and Tufts both ranked highly in Grist’s top 15 colleges and universities, swinging in with student-led sustainability challenges, solar installations, board-approved climate plans and in the case of Middlebury, the guru himself, Bill McKibben. In a more in depth study by the Sustainable Endowment Institute (SEI), Wesleyan’s biggest rival, Williams College was one of only four schools receiving an A for sustainability, joining Stanford, Harvard and Dartmouth on top of the pile. In the same list Amherst, Bowdoin, Smith, Swarthmore, and Vassar all placed higher then Wesleyan, which scored a meager C+ for college sustainability. Wesleyan’s saving grace is Campus Sustainability, in which it received top marks. To be clear the SEI college sustainability score evaluated sustainability at the endowment level. Why? Simple, because if a climate plan is tied to a university’s most precious resource (its funding) then will not be left by the wayside.
I find Grist’s ranking more empowering due to the emphasis it places on student and faculty involvement in the learning process. Education remains the most potent tool in our arsenal against global warming. Awareness and clarity make the difference when it comes to issues like recycling, lighting and energy waste. In my conversations in and around Boston, it remains clear that most people do not hate the environment, but rather, they fail to see the ramifications of their actions.
So where does education start? It should begin at the earliest stage of development. But more importantly, it should not be limited to educational institutions. Clearly lessons learned in the home are just as important, if not more so, than those taught at school. Furthermore, there are the lessons from religious institutions which often bolster our moral and ethical constitutions. Grist’s top 15 green religious leaders sheds a little light on the often ambiguous relationship between the earth and religious doctrine. The Grist top 15 underlines one of the most encouraging factors: environmentalism permeates all religions. His Holiness the Dalai Lama not only stresses the importance of a clean environment as a basic human right, which we are responsible for passing on, but takes his message a step further, offsetting all the emissions from his significant travels. Pope Benedict XVI echoes the Dalai Lama’s words and actions, using an electric Pope-mobile in the Vatican, installing solar panels to power the Vatican and stressing the concept that the earth is not indifferent, raw material for our use as we see fit. Islamic and Judaic leaders grace the Grist 15, providing an educating example for how to treat the earth with dignity and respect.
At times it is difficult to not sound “preachy” about the environment. As much as I look up to figureheads such as Al Gore, the real potency lies in grassroots recognition and change. MakeMeSustainable was founded to give everyone a voice in the face of climate change. We set out to empower individuals to change the course of the planet, starting with themselves and spreading the word, becoming catalysts for change in an increasingly vulnerable state of global warming. Education is key to success in this race for the environment. It is too easy for my parents to claim “we didn’t know any better” when referring to their smoking addictions throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. With the resources at our fingertips, ignorance can be bested if we just put in the time and effort to tell our friends, family and co-workers about the benefits of putting that plastic bottle in the blue bin rather than the trash bag.
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