Ain't Easy Being Green

by Sowmya Kypa | 11/18/03 6:00am

What is U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix concerned about more than military problems? The environment. During an interview this March, he said, "To me the question of the environment is more ominous than that of peace and war I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict."

With 11 of the hottest recorded years occurring since 1980, with 1997, 1998, and 2001 topping the charts, and the planet heating at an ever faster rate, he has ample reason for worry.

Indeed, massive climate change leads to more frequent extreme weather events and unreliable precipitation patterns, and its repercussions move well beyond simply busying meteorologists. Our climate rules our lives.

More droughts and more floods, especially of agriculturally productive river deltas, would result in great agriculture losses. More heat would result in more cases of heat related illnesses and a greater spread of heat-loving infectious diseases. Reality confirms this, as the incidence of malaria has quadrupled in the 1990s and is expected to rise. As for what it could do to the economy, here's an illustration: extreme weather would result in major losses for the insurance industry. That is exactly what has been happening: damage claims from severe weather events which averaged $2 billion a year in the 1980s averaged $12 billion a year in the 1990s. As retired editor of the "Boston Globe" and environmental activist Ross Gelbspan points out, "the global environment circumscribes and supports the global economy." All of humanity should worry.

One method of averting or alleviating such a disaster lies in raising energy efficiency and switching toward cleaner energy sources. There is tremendous potential to what could be harnessed from the sun and wind. According to the Student Environmental Action Coalition, "the Sun showers the Earth with more usable energy in one minute than the world uses in one year" and "the price of wind energy has dropped more than 90 percent since the 1980s and there are enough good wind areas in the United States to produce over three times the amount of energy that is currently produced."

Dartmouth has teamed up with the other schools in the Ivy League, and with other schools in the Northeast, to confront this major threat to the global environment, health and economy. Just this weekend, the Ivy Council -- a coalition of the student governments of all the Ivies except for Harvard -- committed to a campaign to conduct a greenhouse gas emissions inventory of all campuses and divert the savings from conservation efforts to either purchase clean, renewable energy or promote energy efficiency. We also committed to purchasing five percent of our total energy from clean, renewable sources by 2006 and 15 percent by 2010.

A group of Dartmouth students falling under ILEC --Ivy League Environmental Coalition -- are working to help Dartmouth carry out that commitment. If every Dartmouth student contributed an extra $1 of tuition per term, we would have $12,000 a year for renewable energy. Would you pay the extra?