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Oberlin and Climate Change
by John Schaefer '59

Two dozen alumni, students, and environmental experts converged on the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies in June for a weekend discussion about our changing climate and what Oberlin can do to slow the process.

Working from the assumption that the Earth's climate is changing--as evidenced by higher sea levels, glacial melting, frequent and intense storms, and extinct species--panel members affirmed their belief that Oberlin should commit to becoming greenhouse-gas neutral.

Most of the College's heat and electricity come from coal, a major producer of greenhouse gas. The panel's suggestions for reducing Oberlin's emissions included the use of natural gas, cogeneration (generating electricity as well as heat), enhanced energy conservation, and the purchase of "green" electricity from renewable sources.

Leading energy expert Amory Lovins, the CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute and the conference's keynote speaker, contended that Oberlin can save money in the long term by investing in energy-efficient facilities now. But Associate Director of Facilities Planning and Construction Sal Filardi warned that while appealing, some policies are more difficult to implement than they appear to be. Furthermore, he noted, energy consumption on campus has decreased significantly since 1998.

In commenting on another statement by Filardi--that the College is doing more to address sustainability on some fronts and less on others--attendee Susan Griswold Blandy '60 noted, "When our class occupied the new Dascomb Hall in 1956, it had a heating problem. It still does."

Although the Lewis Center showcases some of the technologies that could contribute to a sustainable future--such as biologically based waste-water treatment and rooftop solar panels, the College as a whole has yet to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy. Recommendations for such a policy are being developed for the president by an advisory committee.

The Oberlin Environmental Education Alumni Association invites all alums to participate in future activities.


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