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ISSUE 117 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/9/2004

Environmental progress essential

By Dan Schramm
Staff Writer

Friday, April 9, 2004

Three weeks ago, I wrote a column laying out what I believe to be some of the more egregious transgressions of President Bush's environmental and energy policies. It is crucial for us as open-minded students to be familiar with these policies and judge for ourselves their social and economic worth. But analyzing what is in my mind the gross ecological negligence currently polluting the highest levels of our government provides us with only half of a complex picture of evolving social values.

On a smaller scale (i.e the level of Northfield, MN), a transformation in environmental thinking is taking place. This transformation will be remembered as an axial period of human history as significant as the Industrial Revolution. Students should know the changes this college is making right now. There is much we can be proud of, but much more work that needs to be done.

The average student may not know it, but St. Olaf owns 600 acres of farmland northwest of campus. Most of this has been leased to a single farmer for several decades, but this farmer has been engaging increasingly in industrial methods of agriculture that lead to massive soil erosion and the injection of poisons into St. Olaf's land. The administration has tried to negotiate with the farmer to adopt more sustainable practices. After making little headway, the administration has not renewed his lease and will now only allow farmers who use sustainable agricultural methods to farm the land.

While there is nothing pleasant about severing such a long-standing relationship, the administration has made the right decision on this issue and deserves the thanks of the student body. After careful study, the college now also plans to install a composting unit in the near future.

Stav Hall was designed to utilize a composting unit. Because of expenses and uncertainty about waste flows, the college waited until now to act. With a composting unit, much of the waste generated by Stav Hall will not get dumped in a landfill but will be turned back into clean energy and fertilizer.

The facilities department, under Pete Sandberg, is also looking at the possibility of switching to wind-generated electricity. Potential windmill sites, costs and benefits are being explored. It is possible that within less than ten years, a significant portion of this campus's energy will come from the wind, rather than hydro or nuclear power.

The new science building on which we are about to begin constructing also testifies to the college's growing environmental concerns. This building will utilize some of the newest concepts in "green" architecture, including extensive natural lighting, no net loss of flora, and highly efficient systems of heating and cooling.

I do not list these changes simply to gush over St. Olaf's forward-looking ecological sensibility. Certainly we students should thank the various members of the faculty, administration and Board of Regents who are putting this college in the vanguard of environmentally responsible institutions. But we are only just beginning to make the systemic changes necessary to insure a happy and sustainable future.

Furthermore, we as students should not leave the energy and idealism of our youth unused and untested . We shouldn't be passively admiring the college for making these changes - we should be clamoring for even more radical ones!

One may wonder why we should be so concerned about sustainability. David Orr is a prominent environmentalist and a proponent of environmental education who visited campus a few weeks ago. He argues that if we do not swiftly transform our systems of energy and resource use, we will be faced with not only global warming but global destabilization. In fact, reasonable scientific estimates now show that geographic devastation may already be inevitable.

Orr himself is not optimistic. He says we must have hope, but hope is a matter of faith, not rational expectation. As a college of the church, St. Olaf has an essential role to play in this movement of hope. We as students must heed the call to action. Future generations may look back on this period as a staggering failure of the human spirit, or they may study our age as humanity's finest moment.

Dan Schramm is a senior from St. Louis, Mo. He majors in Philosophy with a religion emphasis and has an environmental studies concentration.

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