To the Editor:
In his job in the travel and tourism industry, Auden Schendler ’92 has clearly become well-versed in greenwashing.
At least enough, as the tone of his column, “Bowdoin is falling dangerously behind on climate change,” makes clear, to point out where an industry expert would deem the paint too thin.
Schendler’s column demonstrates two points extremely well. He is right that Bowdoin shouldn’t be hiding behind green slogans and should be taking action that will drive actual change.
Additionally, the text of his letter is a perfect example of how to use unbearably caustic words to destroy the possibility of consensus.
For consensus is exactly what Bowdoin needs right now. Take the two headline sustainability initiatives that have come up for debate recently: achieving carbon neutrality and divesting the endowment of petrochemical firms.
These causes are basically two sides of the same coin, and any coherent sustainability strategy would either accept or reject both of them, but at Bowdoin we find ourselves stuck in between.
Both initiatives sound great on paper: who doesn’t want to be able to parade around with a “100 percent renewable” sticker on their chest? And yet both are fundamentally flawed.
As Schendler helpfully points out in the only constructive suggestion in his letter, Bowdoin’s last 30 percent of carbon emissions are difficult and inefficient to mitigate.
While buying renewable energy certificates sometimes does fund otherwise impossible renewable energy development, a more well-thought-out approach would reinvest that money in longer-term sustainability projects that could cause real change in Brunswick, such as investing in local green businesses.
The proposal to divest the College’s endowment completely from fossil fuels suffers from a similar lack of perspective.
The policy completely ignores the huge positive impact that natural gas has as a low-emission transitional source of energy, and leaves open the question of what exactly counts as a “fossil fuel” company.
Deforestation is a massive contributor to climate change, so would the policy also bar the College from investing in timber futures, for example? If not, divestment would serve no material purpose.
And if so, what else would be prohibited? Would we divest from shipping firms because bunker oil is highly polluting?
Anyone wearing anything Made In China would be a hypocrite to agree.
Both policies would go a long way to demonstrating—at least in the headlines—the College’s devotion to sustainability, which makes them attractive.
While in my opinion they both are poorly conceived and wasteful uses of funds, I can understand why some support them, and I would be able to accept them if they were backed up by a coherent sustainability strategy.
Regardless of anyone’s personal opinion, the fact remains that any institution with a coherent sustainability strategy would either adopt or reject both measures.
Bowdoin is not there yet, and whichever way we swing, there needs to be agreement between stakeholders.
What the administration, alumni and students need to work on is building this consensus, not engaging in a self-destructive war of words, and that is where Mr. Schendler stepped over the line.
Benjamin Ziomek ’13