The green posters, "350," even the lack of water bottles at Express—we're seeing signs of the College's push toward environmental sustainability everywhere. While last year's "We're Committed" signs were visible, the declaration seemed half-hearted and the campus's focus directed elsewhere; namely, at the economy. Suddenly, with the College's aim set squarely on carbon neutrality by 2020, things are happening, and they're happening fast. Last week's release of the Climate Neutrality Implementation Plan was a dedicated initiative on Bowdoin's behalf, following years of smaller energy-saving gestures, to make this theoretical ideal into a practical plan.
Though Bowdoin College may only appear to be a small institution in Maine, with a relatively small carbon footprint compared to larger corporations and cities, our environmental ethics and actions do matter. In fact, the College is unique in its role as an academic institution charged with the responsibility of nurturing student growth and intellectual development. Bowdoin's plan for carbon neutrality may not become a piece of national legislation, but it is an important document that will set the tone for maturing minds.
Given Bowdoin's strength as an academic institution, Section IV of the recently released implementation plan outlines an initiative to increase environmental literacy. The report states, "Because climate change is happening so rapidly, disciplines across the Academy will need to be reinvigorated within an environmental context." Herein lies Bowdoin's important contribution: challenging the way we conceptualize and approach issues of the environment, regardless of where or when we encounter them.
Students don't have to obsess over the environment to be involved, as Bowdoin is not advocating an environmental empiricism. In fact, given the plan detailed in the report, students are only asked to approach class and life at Bowdoin with an open, thoughtful mind. Considering our planet and the direction in which it's heading, then systematically challenging such assumptions, is only the beginning. From there, we begin approaching, applying and adapting environmental frameworks within every realm of academia.
Students can conceptualize the focus on environmental literacy within the curriculum by considering the goals of a liberal arts education. While the material learned in the classroom is undoubtedly important, it is also important to graduate with a broad set of skills that can be applied professionally. Just as we are taught to be strong writers and insightful, critical thinkers, we can also take on new frameworks of environmental thought, applying them to literature, cultural topics, current events and our everyday existence. Moving environmental discussion beyond the worlds of political discourse or policy analysis, and into an academic or humanitarian setting: this may be Bowdoin's greatest achievement while aiming for carbon neutrality.
Our ability to analyze information using a lens of environmental awareness may prove crucial in the future. Though we are too young to have witnessed the beginnings of intellectual movements such as the struggle for racial equality, feminism or debates surrounding gender and sexuality, this framework is fresh and new. We have already been engaged with environmental issues politically, but we have yet to see them permeate the curriculum on a larger scale. As the College expands its interdisciplinary focus on the environment, we should embrace such offerings with an open mind. The responsibility falls into our hands to take this new mode of thinking to the many places we will go once our time here has ended.