Back in the early ’80s we started to hear about the disturbing increase in carbon dioxide levels measured atop the Hawaiian volcano Mona Loa.
Then not much later, fellow scientists talked increasingly about the implications of this increase, and the likely effects on our climate.
Public awareness at the time was minimal at best, and even most climate scientists failed to adjust their living habits to provide an example toward a reduction in carbon dioxide emission.
Times have certainly changed in that there is now far more awareness of the consequences of increased carbon dioxide emissions.
Clearly we have far to go, but there is a change afoot. But this change will drag on slowly, too slowly, until there is a realization of a sense of personal responsibility.
Everything we do, every day, has a direct effect on carbon dioxide emissions. Some choose to try to recycle, use less plastic, and turn off the lights. But to take real responsibility will require a larger adjustment in our lives.
Do sports teams really need to travel half way across New England for a one-hour sports event? Do we need to drive to class across campus, rather than walk or bike? Do we need to watch TV while we exercise on an electronic treadmill (in an energy efficient building), or do we need to go to sit on a chairlift every weekend?
Picky, small changes that will have little effect on the global use of carbon, you might argue? Maybe, but they are representative of an attitude change that we could all adopt.
If only we at Bowdoin made these small changes, I agree, there would be little effect. But we are an educational institution that should set an example, and hope that others will follow.
If you buy into this, then let’s make our example even more obvious. Let’s put a solar panel array on every building, let’s ban driving on campus, let’s turn off unneeded electronic devices.
And then, once we have set these and other examples and made some personal changes, then, and only then, let’s discuss divestment from oil companies.
Then during that discussion, and when we have the attention of others, let us as a community organize and put pressure on our Washington representatives, and President Obama, to take meaningful action by adopting an effective energy policy that reduces carbon dioxide emission.
Then perhaps we can strike a balance in our lives so we can ski on weekends where the lifts are run by ridge top windmills, and we traveled there in a carbon neutral mode. Remember that if you want others to do something, then be prepared to do something yourself first.
Linnean Professor of Biology