Cult of Sustainability

by Jasper Hicks | 11/30/09 11:00pm

Over the past few months and years, sustainability has turned into a pseudo-religion on this campus. Everywhere I turn, I see students taping up posters on doors a la Martin Luther about how to live a more sustainable life. Just like weekly sermons at church, we receive weekly blitzes in our inboxes. Like bible study, we have weekly council meetings on climate change. Our church is the Sustainable Living Center. We even have a sustainability officer staff that can talk to students one-on-one. I feel as though I should be repenting for my use of a to-go container last night.

College President Jim Yong Kim, since becoming president, has done his part to further spread this pseudo-religion around campus. Acting as a missionary of sorts, he made it known in his inaugural address just how important a sustainable future is for Dartmouth: "If you're an engineer," Kim suggested, "take on climate change and move us toward a more sustainable future."

But it's not only the administration that has pushed for green action. The student body has done its part to convert this campus to be more sustainable, too. This is where the pseudo-religious have run into trouble, and have sent the wrong message about sustainability. If you are not sustainable, they insinuate, then you must be hurting the environment. Just take a look at Dartmouth's decision to put up "green screens" showing polar bears dying when students use "too much" energy. If you are not conserving, these followers suggest, then you must be abusing and littering. Thou shalt not drink from water bottles, they say. Thou shalt not leave thy computer on. Thou shalt not use plastic.

While all dialogue on campus may not sound so alarmist and combative, more rational voices, it seems, are typically drowned out in the chorus. This, to our detriment, creates a biased, closed-minded campus. Because of this partiality, those who question environmentalism are not even given a chance to speak. Often times, they are scoffed at.

"You're telling me that you don't believe in global warming?" one might hear a dogmatic environmentalist joke "Please, don't be so ignorant."

One problem with such environmentalist fundamentalism is that these zealots adhere to research that they believe to be foolproof. They are dogmatic about science, which by nature is fallible. This past week, for instance, hackers uncovered thousands of e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit that hinted at a plot among academics to cover up the truth about climate change. As The New York Times reported, "[I]n one e-mail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical trick' in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend. In another, a scientist refers to climate skeptics as idiots.'" As one doctor wrote, "[T]he fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." While what the hackers did may be criminal, this discovery has unveiled what we knew all along: that all science is prone to errors. Dogmatic environmentalism may not be the word of God after all.

But regardless of what past science or new e-mails may tell us, an additional problem on this campus lies in the fact that followers of this pseudo-religion act in a way that is antithetical to what college learning should be about. Sustainability advocates believe no one can legitimately disagree with them. Like religious fanatics, they are unwilling to consider that what they believe may be false that global warming may not be occurring, and that drastic sustainability measures may therefore not be necessary. They preach their doctrine and that is enough for them. Never do they consider that scientists may have gotten this one wrong. Never do they look at the issue from the other side.

In a way, those who do not subscribe to this pseudo-religion, and instead question environmentalism, are being excommunicated from the church. That is because there is no room for debating the scriptures of environmental think tanks and climate academics on this campus. There exists an apparent unanimity of belief: that global warming is occurring and that Dartmouth must do all it can to protect the environment. Personally, I wish these dogmatic environmentalists would keep more of an open mind on this issue. Science can be wrong, you know. And it often is.