Letter to the Editor: For the Seventh Generation

Dartmouth must go beyond divestment for effective sustainability.

by Peter Crownfield | 10/6/16 12:30am

In the Sept. 22 news article “Sustainability task force to meet this month,” Maanav Jalan ’19 advocates for the divestment of fossil fuel stocks owned by the College, while the task force chair, professor Andrew Friedland, says “getting Dartmouth to stop burning No. 6 fuel oil would have a much greater impact on CO2 emissions.” This, however, understates the importance of the issue of climate change – one of the greatest issue of our time, and one that we must face directly.

It is essential that we decide to stop burning No. 6 bunker fuel and learn how to replace it with alternatives. Bunker fuel is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels — eliminating it is already 20-plus years overdue! But divestment is also very important: investing in companies that are destroying our future makes a mockery of pledges to become sustainable. So why not invest those endowment funds in a comprehensive project to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a high-return investment with near-zero risk?

The solution is not limited to the central heating plant; we need to reduce the overall amount of energy we use. In fact, climate impact is influenced by many seemingly-simple factors, such as leaving the lights on and setting the thermostat too high. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even a 1 degree Fahrenheit reduction in heating can reduce energy usage by 3 percent. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions also necessitates supply chain improvements such as switching to 100 percent recycled paper, eliminating single-use containers and utensils, and purchasing organic food.

Given what we now know about global warming, it is not enough for Dartmouth to simply meet the EPA’s goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2030, especially considering what other colleges and universities are doing. Ironically, Dartmouth didn’t even make the Princeton Review’s top 50 “green” schools in 2015.

In 2006, leaders in campus sustainability created the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which is a plan to become climate neutral that garnered the signatures of nearly 700 colleges and universities. Early signatories include Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, the College of the Holy Cross, Smith College, the University of Massachusetts and the University of New Hampshire. Signing a formal commitment like this makes a public statement and encourages others in the community to take action.

The students I work with as an internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities in Pennsylvania are outraged and disgusted by businesses, governments and institutions that threaten their future by continuing to generate global warming emissions, release toxic chemicals that cause disease and genetic defects and sell food that undermines our health instead of nurturing it.

Back when Dartmouth was still young, indigenous people knew that all life is connected, and the Iroquois Confederacy even spelled out the importance of making decisions for the benefit of those living seven generations into the future. We might all be better off if the colonists had taken the opportunity to learn from them instead of blindly trying to “educate” them.

-Peter Crownfield ’66

Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania