Last week I fulfilled one of my lifetime goals: I saw Al Gore speak in person. He spoke as an alumnus and inspiration at Harvard’s ‘Sustainability Week’ celebration. Harvard officially estimated a crowd around 15,000 ‘-‘- all simultaneously sipping local apple cider and absorbing the words of the man who put the environmental movement back on the political and societal forefront.
Mr. Gore articulated the need for universities to take the lead in the fight against global warming, and excessively applauded Harvard for its sustainability efforts. He noted the central position of science in altering mindsets, like Galileo’s earth-shaking conclusion that the world is round, rather than flat. Gore pointed out that these discoveries have led to many ‘inconvenient truths,’ but that has not hindered progress or civilization by any measure.
Gore urged a massive national investment to fund the 100 percent reduction of carbon emissions by the next decade, and also stressed the need for a global climate treaty. He concluded by urging political participation – a ‘renewable resource’ – and implicitly endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama without actually naming him. All in all, it was an inspirational speech about the importance of the university and academic pursuits in past and present global realities.
Bravo Harvard, I said to myself at the end. What a spectacle to be envied. However, this wasn’t simply a spectacle: The celebration took place alongside Harvard’s creation of an Office of Sustainability, which is an extension of their eight-year Green Campus Initiative; the promise by President Drew Faust to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016. Those ‘green is the new crimson’ banners hanging on every oak tree in Harvard Yard are not empty promises, like many green publicity stunts are.
I will admit, for a good chunk of Mr. Gore’s speech I was seething with jealousy at the ability of the school of schools to commit to such sustainable projects. If only BU had the funds and interest to commit to sustainability in such a genuine and progressive approach, I thought.
But I decided to stop glaring at every crimson-wearing, organic cider-sipping spectator and resolved to start thinking constructively. What would it take for BU to gather a crowd of 15,000 for a sustainability event? The promise of the presence of a notable figure like Mr. Gore? The free organic snacks? Is the leadership of the university president the key to a truly campus-wide initiative?
Instead of trying to figure out what we could do to create a sustainability initiative with events as prestigious as Harvard’s sustainability week celebration, we need to work with what we already have. We don’t need one figure directing this initiative from the top floor of the School of Management. What we need is a communication method where invested students, faculty and staff can collaborate and open up a discourse with the administration and the community, so we can more easily coordinate and create the pressure needed from the ground up. This collaboration will be the key to any greening of our scarlet campus.
Rachel Weil, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected]