Obies Tackle Climate Change
By Oriana Syed

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 said.
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,” Jahns said.
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,” said Stenger.
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” she said.
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 change.
“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.”

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