Editorial: Changing Campus Culture Around Sustainability

By The Editorial Board

Gettysburg College is on pace to meet its goal of achieving net carbon neutrality by the year 2032.

But when Environmental Studies faculty found out that we have reduced our net carbon emissions by 50 percent, they were apparently surprised. It was news to these professors that we were making substantial progress towards our sustainability goal.

A crucial question remains, though, if our own Environmental Studies department was caught off guard by such exciting news: are we working tangibly on campus towards our sustainability goal?

Part of the 50 percent reduction in net carbon emissions is attributed to the purchasing of carbon offsets which, according to The New York Times, “compensate[s] for your emissions by canceling out greenhouse gas emissions somewhere else in the world.” It sounds good on paper. Feels good. Is good. And let’s be perfectly clear—we’re not saying that we should stop purchasing carbon offsets. What we are saying is that we need to be doing more here, in Gettysburg.

We’d also like to know just how much of that 50 percent reduction in net carbon emissions is attributed to the purchasing of those carbon offsets. Saying we’re reducing our net carbon emissions is great, but people will become complacent without all of the details about how we’re achieving that goal. The number—50%, that is—makes us feel a little more at ease when we’re living in an era of climate crisis. But buying positive change that we’re not seeing in our daily lives just isn’t enough.

Shouldn’t we be making changes we can see on campus? Changes that students and faculty can be inspired by? Isn’t the point of a Climate Action Plan at a liberal arts school like Gettysburg to help students bear witness to collective action towards a goal?

Part of our institutional mission is to prepare students for a changing world—to help us develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. How can we possibly be preparing students for the real world when we neglect to incorporate sustainability in our curricular goals?

The Dickinson College website highlights this argument, which underscores a connection between climate change and the liberal arts: “To contribute to and help lead a successful transition, our graduates need 21st-century skills that prepare them to integrate knowledge about complex systems, learn from and adapt to changing conditions, and envision and implement sustainable solutions.”

At Dickinson, campus culture has shifted. They’re less than an academic year away from complete and total carbon neutrality. And students know this. We’d venture to say that they’re proud of it, too.

Dickinson’s approach to the climate crisis differs from Gettysburg’s in that it is rooted in behavioral changes. The college invests in carbon offsets, too. But students are also active participants in the institution’s sustainability goals. More than 20 campus buildings are equipped with energy dashboards that help students monitor energy consumption. There’s an organic farm on campus that contributes to Dickinson dining services. Students participate in a bike share. Their curriculum is tailored to underscore the importance of sustainability.

We’re not seeing changes like these on our campus, but we could if we demanded them.

We’re not seeing changes like these on our campus, but we could if we demanded them. We could have a course called “Climate Change: What You Need to Know & What You Can Do About It”—it would be wildly popular across campus, not to mention important.

Right now, the only sustainability positions we have on campus consist of student internships. Imagine what we could do if we had a full-time position dedicated to making these changes on our campus.

It just takes a collective shift in priorities.

A small campus is the perfect place to tackle climate change, in that mobilizing as a unified group takes far less organization. It just takes a collective shift in priorities. It takes faculty, staff, and students working together to tackle the same issues. It takes curricular adjustments.

The good news?

We’re capable of doing all of that at Gettysburg College.

More than capable.

This editorial reflects the collective opinion of The Gettysburgian’s Editorial Board: Benjamin Pontz ’20 (Editor-in-Chief), Maddie Neiman ’21 (Managing Editor), Lauren Hand ’20 (Print Editor), Anna Cincotta ’21 (Opinions Editor), Garrett Glaeser ’21 (Sports Editor), Phoebe Doscher ’22 (News Editor), Britney Brunache ’22 (Arts & Entertainment Editor), Cam D’Amica ’22 (Features Editor), Kailey White ’21 (Visual Editor), Mary Frasier ’21 (Director of Photography) & Samantha Hann ’21 (Public Relations Manager).

This article originally appeared on page 23 of the October 31, 2019 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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1 Comment

  1. I was delighted to read this article in the gettysburgian. I’m a graduate of the class of 1970. Like you I am deeply concerned about our climate crisis. To address it in my county, fairfax in northern va, I am a member of the board of directors of the faith alliance for climate solutions. We are an interfaith organization that has members from over 70 different communities of faith from Protestant, catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Unitarian communities. To us the climate crisis is a moral issue since the impact of the climate crisis disproportionately impacts the worlds most vulnerable communities. In my county we are working to persuade the county government to live up to its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050. We have persuaded the county to develop a climate action plan that will map out in very specific terms how the county will move us to carbon neutrality. Sorry for the long winded explanation. What I would like to see is our college to do all that you suggested in your piece and more. The college needs to develop a carbon action plan. In July the Sierra club rates colleges and universities in the us on how sustainable they are. Gettysburg us not even on the list. Dickenson on the other hand is in the top 10! We need to take a lesson from them. How can I help?

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