VanDusen: To Be Truly Green, Lead

by Katy VanDusen | 9/15/15 6:02pm

During his address to alumni at my June reunion, College President Phil Hanlon declared that the College must be a place of big ideas where risks are taken to solve the world’s most difficult challenges — that it should be a place where students and faculty work together to change the world. This is an inspirational purpose. Afterward I asked, “Last week Pope Francis identified climate change as one of the greatest challenges facing mankind and implored us to act. What big ideas and bold efforts do you have for Dartmouth in solving this challenge?”

Later, many fellow alumni thanked me for asking the question, and they also wanted more specifics on how the College will act on addressing climate change.

On the same occasion, Board of Trustees chair Bill Helman ’80 emphasized the importance of successfully competing with other colleges and universities. Yet when it comes to climate change, Dartmouth is lagging far behind others. Our own sustainability office’s website admits we have the largest carbon footprint per student in the Ivy League, and The Princeton Review’s Green Guide states that zero percent of our energy comes from renewable sources. In Sierra Magazine’s “Cool Schools 2015” ranking of sustainability, we come in 69th, well behind other northeastern colleges and universities, including Middlebury College at fifth and the University of Pennsylvania at 23rd.

Many students and alumni chose to attend Dartmouth in part because of their love for the outdoors, and a great number of us care about environmental stewardship. Prospective students also care. The Princeton Review reports that 61 percent say that a college’s commitment to the environment influences their decision.

In his response to me, President Hanlon stated that the ways Dartmouth focuses its efforts depend in part on the availability of resources. Data from 2011-12 rank the College as 13th in the country in endowment per student. The College has significantly more resources than most of the other schools with a higher sustainability ranking. A lack of resources should not be an obstacle to our addressing climate change.

If you ask alumni to help make Dartmouth truly green, I am confident we will rise to the occasion. Just as President Hanlon envisioned for students and faculty, alumni want to be part of the business of changing the world for the better.

This year I gave my regular $250 donation to Dartmouth via the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund because I do not want to contribute to an endowment that exacerbates climate change. The College will receive these funds from the Multi-School Fund only if by Dec. 31, 2017 the Board votes to divest within five years. This year I am also donating 50 times my regular amount — $12,500 — directly to the College’s sustainability office to help reduce campus carbon emissions.

Hanlon’s predecessor, former College President Jim Yong Kim, as well as former College trustee Robert Reich ’68 and the alumni Hank Paulson ’68, Dan Reicher ’78 and William McDonough ’73, has publicly emphasized the urgency of de-carbonizing our economy and investing in renewable energy. I call upon Hanlon to join these bold leaders.

I also would like a more specific answer to my question. Again I ask — What big ideas and bold efforts does Dartmouth have to address climate change?

In my dreams, I would hear Hanlon respond that the College must be a leader in understanding, mitigating and adapting to climate change — to do so, we must reshape our physical, academic and financial course.

First, the College’s sustainability office and the Dartmouth master planners would unveil our plan for the campus to become carbon neutral by 2023. The College would drastically reduce its carbon emissions and what it cannot reduce, it would offset.

Second, a new sustainability science and governance cluster would connect the causes and consequences of global environmental change with policy, studying the ways regions and nations can reduce emissions and adapt to new realities.

Third, the trustees’ investment committee would align its financial holdings with the College’s commitment to carbon neutrality. Its investments would quickly be made transparent so we may all observe how we will divest from fossil fuels by 2020.

Hanlon should recognize that these actions may appear risky but are, in fact, fiscally responsible. The College would be doing the right thing.

To President Hanlon and the trustees — please act boldly. Alumni will support you. As a favorite alumnus, Theodor Seuss Geisel ’25, once wrote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Katy VanDusen ’79 is the Monteverde Community Fund board of directors vice president in Costa Rica and is involved in sustainable development