Tackle Climate Change
Ask your average Obie where the electricity comes from when they
switch on a dorm room light bulb and you might be struck by how
few really know. The township of Oberlin derives almost all of its
energy from coal.
At the beginning of last semester senior Claire Jahns and John Petersen,
a professor in the environmental studies department, attended a
conference at Lewis and Clark College. The conference dealt with
the reduction of emissions and the steps the attending colleges
had undertaken to reduce emissions. Jahns returned to Oberlin and
was alarmed at the fact that no one was aware of climate change
and that the College was not addressing the issue.
And so Climate Justice was born.
Jahns said that the name of the group was chosen to reflect the
complexity of the issue. “Our name is Climate Justice, rather
than something like ‘Reduce Emissions,’ because fundamentally
this is a justice issue and the lay citizen has almost given up
his or her right to say what happens to the climate,” she
According to the Climate Justice Statement Of Purpose, its chief
objective is to raise awareness of global climate change issues
and to work with the college to integrate
the concept of climate neutrality into College policies and practices.
“At the same time, Climate Justice is trying to create a network
of students, professors and administrators who would co-operate
on this issue, to bring about real change in the reduction of emissions,”
Burning coal releases more carbon dioxide than the burning of any
other fossil fuel. According to Jahns, about 95 percent of Oberlin’s
electricity and heating comes from coal, primarily because it is
cheaply available in Ohio.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations
group charged with assessing the science behind climate change,
has found that the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
results in dramatic shifts in the earth’s climate and weather.
This affects not only the natural ecosystems but also the six billion
plus humans who call this planet home.
The secondary effects of climate change include flooding of coastal
areas, severe crop loss and higher incidence of insect-borne diseases
such as malaria.
The College received a grant to get an outside auditor to audit
energy use on campus. The audit was conducted by the Rocky Mountain
Institute, a Colorado based research and consulting group. They
called it the 2020 Report — a study with suggestions for making
Oberlin “climate neutral” by 2020.
Climate Justice wants to use the suggestive policies as a starting
point to seeing the 2020 Report implemented.
Jahns and Rob Stenger, another of the founding members, said that
a lot of the suggestions in the 2020 Report would cost money initially
but in the long term would pay for themselves.
One of Climate Justice’s integral goals was to get the 2020
Report released to the campus because there was some confusion as
to whether it was officially endorsed by the College. Climate Justice
wrote a letter to the administration, reinforced by a petition holding
180 signatures. There is now a copy of the report on reserve in
the science library.
Efficient utilization of energy is also a concern of Climate Justice.
According to Stenger, there is an excessive amount of energy wastage
on campus, such as heating systems and lights being left on in buildings
when no one is there.
“Some of the stuff is just a matter of replacing the things
when they break. As the light bulbs break on campus they would be
replaced by energy efficient light bulbs. As buildings are remodeled,
they would take into account the heating systems in that remodeling,”
Investing in energy efficiency is like any other investment, according
to Jahns. She proposed that the College set some money aside for
improvements in energy efficiency and cycle the money saved back
into more energy efficiency projects. “It is sort of an energy
endowment for saving energy with the side benefit of reducing emissions”
Within OSCA last year, Stenger petitioned the facilities department
to look and address the problem of competing regulation in co-ops.
“Most of the buildings are centrally heated and the problem
with a lot of them is the location of the thermostats—- often
on the first floor by a window or a door. This is a possible reason
for it to be colder on the first floor and warmer on the higher
floors,” he said.
Climate Justice deems that steps like introducing additional thermostats
or remodeling College heating could cut emissions by leaps and bounds.
Climate change is “the next big thing facing the world”
said Jahns. She feels that Oberlin, given its progressive history,
ought to take a leadership role in addressing the issue of climate
“Oberlin….is in such a fortunate position that it would
be like the U.S. refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol if we didn’t
reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly, “ she stated.
“We are so privileged and for us to say that this is not a
problem is so hypocritical of everything Oberlin stands for.”