Dartmouth celebrates Earth Week

From April 21 to April 30, the Dartmouth community will celebrate the 53rd Earth Day through a series of pop-up shops, speakers and workshops.

by Kent Friel | 4/28/23 5:10am

4-27-23-courtesy-irvingtownhall-7875
Source: Courtesy of Kent Friel

On April 21, the Dartmouth community began celebrations for Earth Week — marking Dartmouth’s 53rd celebration of the global holiday aimed at fostering environmentalism. Campus events and activities, which will continue until April 30, have ranged from a town hall on the College’s sustainable energy transition to wildflower planting around the Upper Valley. 

Other events included public talks, teach-ins, workshops and pop-up shops. According to College sustainability director Rosie Kerr, the Sustainability Office aimed to involve a diverse array of community members in programming.

“Our office has a whole menu of events,” Kerr said. “The idea is to have a variety of events that engage a diverse audience in climate and sustainability-related programming.”

According to Sustainability Corps program manager Marcus Welker, the Sustainability Office chose to offer the majority of its Earth Week programming the week following global Earth Day — which was celebrated on April 22 —  in order to avoid conflict with Pride 2023 programming, which began April 7. Last year, Earth Week was observed one week earlier, Welker said.

Dartmouth first celebrated Earth Day in April 1970, when the holiday was conceived as a nationwide environmental teach-in, Dartmouth Alumni News reported. Although the original Earth Day focused more on individual actions than system-wide change, Dartmouth students in 1970 indicated a desire to bring the Dartmouth community together for discussion — a mentality that has lived on in the 2023 celebrations.

On April 21, senior monastic Dharma teachers from Deer Park Monastery in California gave a lecture titled “Mindfulness and Climate Change” as part of a weeklong campus visit, according to the Dartmouth Sustainability Office website. The following day, a student group called Fossil-Free Dartmouth hosted a teach-in that examined the relationship between fossil fuels and research at Dartmouth, according to the group’s website.

On April 25, the Design Initiative at Dartmouth hosted a series of events on design and climate adaptation, led by mechanical engineer and PamLab Design and Engineering owner Pamela Silva Díaz, according to the Dartmouth Engineering website. The following day, DIAD and the Irving Institute for Energy and Society hosted a panel of Dartmouth faculty to speak about climate and energy for a speculative fiction project, Irving academic initiatives manager Megan Litwhiler said.

The same day, the Sustainability Office held an energy town hall event titled “Transition to a Low- Carbon Energy Future,” according to its website. 

During the event, Kerr spoke about Dartmouth’s transition to greener energy, as well as the importance and challenge of moving away from greenhouse gasses. Kerr explained that Dartmouth’s energy system has run “essentially the same way it has since the late 1800s.” 

In 2021, the most recent reporting year, Dartmouth emitted the equivalent of 43,739 metric tons of carbon dioxide, making it the 11th highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

Kerr said Dartmouth is currently transitioning from a steam heating system and central heating plant to a new system that relies on high-efficiency hot water heating. During the town hall, energy infrastructure renewal program manager Julia Pfeiffer said that much of Dartmouth will need to switch to this new heating system, explaining that solving energy problems is “a really complex puzzle.” 

“The next five to 15 years are going to have a high impact [on Dartmouth’s clean energy transition],” Pfeiffer said.   

The Sustainability Office is also working with Dartmouth Student Government to collect data on how students are impacted by climate change, Sustainability Office fellow Rachel Kent ’21 said. 

According to Welker, Dartmouth committed to a series of sustainability goals in 2017 — including moving toward 50% renewable energy by 2025 — in an initiative called “Our Green Future.” On Oct. 22, the College began the process of re-examining the initiative and creating an updated set of goals, according to an April 22 email sent by College President Phil Hanlon ’77 and president-elect Sian Beilock and the Sustainability Office website. The new framework, “Our Green Future 2.0,” was a response to the United Nations’ 2023 climate report demanding more urgent action, according to the email. 

Kerr said Dartmouth has maintained its goal of shifting away from greenhouse gasses but explained that the College will have to work “faster than … anticipated” to achieve its sustainable energy goals.

Although Welker said that the energy transition will be a “major undertaking,” he said it would also be a solution to “supporting a more environmentally friendly institution.” 

“The College has set ambitious targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions,” Welker said. “Those targets that were set in [2017] were in line with the best science at the time. However, science has evolved and the need to react has increased.”

Assistant geography professor Justin Mankin, who was involved with Our Green Future 2.0, said he worked to “re-envision how we heat and cool our campus.” While Mankin recognized the value of Earth Week, he said efforts must extend beyond a single week.

“The idea of there being a week where there’s wider campus engagement on environment and climate related issues is great, but what we try to do with our scholarship is to put those issues front of mind every day,” Mankin said. “What matters is for Dartmouth to put its money where its mouth is and be a leader.”

Mankin said he is optimistic that Dartmouth will follow up on its Our Green Future 2.0 goals. He said that Dartmouth students are “more concerned” about the environment with each incoming class, adding that the teams in charge of making the College more sustainable — including the facilities and infrastructure teams —  are making a positive impact.

Geography department chair Christopher Sneddon, who was also involved in Our Green Future 2.0, agreed that more change is needed.

“It’s great to have events that get people excited, but it will also be great to see more material change on campus,” he said. “There is really a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of Dartmouth’s location and reputation [as an environmentally friendly institution].”

In addition to professors, Kerr said that student voices have been essential to starting the green energy transition initiative. 

“A lot of what we’re doing now is the result of student passions 10 years ago,” she said. 

Correction Appended (April 30, 11:36 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Kent's title at the Sustainability Office. The article has been updated.