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ISSUE 119 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/16/2005

Sustainability blooms prematurely

By Nicole Zepper
Executive Editor

Friday, September 16, 2005

Unless students have been living under a rock or inside a box for the past week (preferably a biodegradable box, of course), they are well aware that St. Olaf has labeled 2005-2006 the “Year of Green.”

This means an extra emphasis on environmental responsibility, ecological awareness, new visions for a brighter future and other lofty tree-hugging talk.

Naturally, there are some aspects of this “sustainability” movement which are commendable. However, the decision to declare the “green” theme this year is premature, overly zealous and somewhat inappropriate.

Confused students may wonder, “What exactly makes this year ‘greener’ than any other?”

After all, the two most significant environmentally friendly projects planned for our campus — the wind turbine and the new Science Center — are nowhere near completion. Construction has begun on the wind turbine, but it still has a long way to go before it will produce all of that clean, renewable energy we keep hearing about.

Meanwhile, the Science Center is even further behind schedule. Work on the design for the new building is not set to be completed until sometime late in 2006, according to the College’s website; it doesn’t take an environmental expert to understand that this means it will be a long time before the first little “green” brick has been laid for the new complex.

And what theme will we choose once the wind turbine is running and the Science Center is finally operational? “Really, Really Green Year”? “Sustainability: We’re Serious This Time”? Announcing the “green” theme this year is an example of St. Olaf jumping the gun.

In addition to this year’s theme being premature, it also sets a precendent for us to try to tie everything into the theme of sustainability, grasping for straws as we carelessly make any decision which sounds “greener” and more “environmentally friendly”.

This includes Bon Appetit’s unfortunate decision to purchase food produced with less pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, regardless of whether or not these foods are actually healthier or ethically superior to their less-organic counterparts.

Such decisions only serve to perpetuate the commonly held illusion that the use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics are always somehow dangerous or irresponsible.

Speaking as a dairy and crop farmer’s daughter, I can assure you that this is not the case. The decision to declare the “sustainability” theme has created pressure to find more “green” changes to add to the college’s bragging list, and thus has led to certain decisions which are based more heavily on buzzwords and vague environmental sentiments than on scientific facts concerning the safety of our food and environment.

Having said all this, I can also say with confidence that once the wind turbine is completed, it will be a wonderful addition to our campus’ resources.

Once the Science Center has been designed and built with consideration for energy use in that building, it will undoubtedly be an excellent model for environmentally friendly building practices.

Maybe that year, when the new Science Center is up and running, “sustainability” will be a theme worth considering. In the meantime, however, I would prefer to see St. Olaf focus on academics, philanthropy or even (gasp) Christianity as a theme around which to focus the campus’ abundant energy and enthusiasm.

If St. Olaf should happen to become the “greenest” campus in the country some day, that would be fine — wonderful, even. But “sustainability” should not be the main focus of the entire academic year.

There are far more important, more appropriate movements in which our college should invest the bulk of its resources and zeal.

Contributing writer Nicole Zepper is a sophomore from Perham, Minn. She majors in American studies and English.

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