Climate change is a reality that has been the pending subject in the United States for most of the time. Probably, this is one of the most skeptical nation towards man-made climate change, and this refusal to address the problem nation-wide has contributed in part to place the United States as the second country with more carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the whole world, only behind China. To create awareness about this issue among the young people and to contribute to create an environment less aggressive with nature that guarantees the sustainability of the campus was born Green UR. In this interview we will analyze the foundations of the group, the goals they achieved so far and the work that remains undone in the campus.
However, this time I wanted to get the perspective from someone whose work is not directly involved in the achievements and progresses University of Richmond is making. I wanted to get rid of all the biases possible and to get a true and real perspective from the ones that make University of Richmond such a unique college: the students. For this purpose, I have had the opportunity to interview Jerry Giordano, the President of Green UR and a senior of the 2011 class. Also I have had the pleasure to chat with Caroline Hansley, a sophomore that is taking Leadership studies that is currently the vice-president and one of the loudest voices that advocates for action against climate change in Richmond. They are only two of all the students that find that climate change is a problem that shouldn’t be postponed more time, and that is why their perspective is so valuable. No one more than Jerry and Caroline are willing to put effort and dedication to create a more sustainable university, and nobody will be more critical or flattering with the actions being made by the board of UR.
Q. When did the group Green UR started?
A. (Jerry Giordano) At first, all the environmentalist grievances were taken by a special commission of the Seniors Club, but 6 years ago a club called ReNEW was founded in the University. However, this clubs were very much divided and were not effective at all in achieving goals as although they had similar missions, the paths each of those took were very different. The Senior Club had more money to undertake actions, but the leadership of ReNEW was more concerned and more determined. That is why, in the beginning of my freshmen year (Fall 2008) both groups were refunded to create Green UR, where I have been participating ever since.
Q.What are your goals as an association?
A. (Caroline Hensley) Two words: Quit Coal. Coal is the dirtiest and polluting source of energy, and we are still using it in our Campus. While most of the world is doing a clear effort to get rid of the dependence on coal, we still rely on it because is a cheap source of energy, but we don’t take into account in the cost-benefit analysis the long-term consequences that using coal will bring to future generations. We are a pressure group that is trying to push for the total convergence to renewable energy, which we think it can be also a way of saving money.
A.(Jerry Giordano) Apart from that, we are also working in sustainability as much as possible, and that is the bulk of our program: the use of Green Bikes to encourage people to use this way of transport instead than the car, the environmental awareness week that we do every semester, all the workshops that we make to all UR community, the talks with the Board to expand the Green Campus program, etc.
Q. Do you think your Green UR has been successful so far?
A. (Jerry Giordano) Totally yes. All of the programs that I have mentioned before where Green UR have been directly involved in have done very well, especially the use of recycling bins in every class room and residence hall, the use of free bikes on campus, the participation in all the workshops that we have done so far, etc.
A. (Caroline Hansley) I think we have been quite successful as well. One third of the student body has signed the petition on quitting coal, and although the President hasn’t agreed to anything specific yet, I think we have done a great labor in education and awareness of UR community. At least people know now that our power station is fueled by coal and they are less skeptical about the detrimental consequences that climate change will cause.
Q. Do you think the board that runs the University is doing enough to create a greener and more sustainable campus?
A. (Caroline Hansley) Yes, from an outsider it may look that they are doing a lot, but in reality they keep on burning coal on Campus, even though they know that affects the student’s health directly. In my point of view, I just think they are faking it.
A. (Jerry Giordano) No, definitely not. We have a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that is just a set of good intentions, because nobody takes it seriously and it is not binding. It is supposed to cut down the emissions a 30% by 2020, but the amount of CO2 being poured into the atmosphere keeps on rising.
Even switching coal to natural gas, which is a very cheap and easy reform, remains to be undone. Natural Gas is cheap and pollutes less (I am not talking about 100% renewable energy convergence, just a change in the kind of fuel they use). For whatever reason, the environment is not a priority in our university, regardless the appearance we might give to the outer world.
At institutions of higher learning, I feel that they should take the future of their students very seriously and they are not doing so.
Q. Do you think this final goal of Green UR [create an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus] is viable?
A. (Caroline Hansley) Yes, without a doubt. There are more than two hundred campuses that use Renewable Energy sources only in our country. If other can, why the University of Richmond that has so much money can’t? The best of renewable energy is that it is free, it only requires an inversion in the beginning and that’s all. If we used solar panels we would erase completely our dependency in the summer semester and in part of the fall and spring semester whenever the weather is still good. Also, the convergence process would create jobs in the area, contributing to reducing the unemployment in Virginia. Renewable energy is the best investment we can make for the future.
A. (Jerry Giordano) Unlike Caroline, I think that the only viable thing right now is starting the transition, not completing it. What we should be doing now is to be taking the first steps now to get a “carbon neutral” campus before 2050, which is the deadline that the CAP has established. It has been scientifically proven that 2050 it’s going to be very late for our planet, and being carbon neutral by then won’t prevent all the problems that we will have to face in only four decades.
Q.How would you make this transition?
A. (Caroline Hansley) There is a free option to do all of this, and it is called “Power Purchase Agreement”. What it basically involves is that a company installs solar panels (or other renewable energy source that they consider to be the most appropriate one) and the university buys the energy they create to the company that installed the panels. The University of California of San Diego saves from $50.000 to $75.000 with this agreement. *I can’t find any source that either affirms or contradicts the speaker’s data.
A. (Jerry Giordano) This is the question that most of the people who try to excuse the University immobility of the convergence issue, but I am only a student, and I don’t have the answers to this. I am not supposed to be the one counseling and designing viable solutions to the problem. It only requires to hire a group of experts to set the pathways to make the university a 100% renewable in the cheapest way – it is only a matter of putting more interest to it.
Q. So, why do you think this is not happening right now?
A. (Caroline Hansley) I think that the explanation is that there is not enough demand for it. If instead than a third of the student body, all of the alumni requested a renewable energy powered campus, the things would be much more different right now. We have to get more involved and aware students to push for it, because the final decision made by the ones that has the power in this university is only invest some time and money in renewable sources, there is not a drastic change needed. That is why we will only succeed when there’s enough pressure.
A. (Jerry Giordano) As I said before this is only a matter of interest, and this university is only interested in economic benefits. After all, we are a private institution, and everything is calculated by a rational cost-benefit decision-making process. If talking about environment is in vogue and makes our campus to look more liberal, they will address some kind of action only to get the appearance that we are ahead from the rest of our competitor colleges and to attract more students that are indecisive and will take the final decision based in the “politics” of the school.
However, there is not a real commitment; there is not a true belief that climate change should be addressed locally to make progress globally. They are looking to market themselves, and there is nothing beyond this pretending. At least the seek for a competitive advantage with other colleges have had beneficial consequences in our campus, but other universities, like the VCU are year ahead of us. The reason? Less skepticism and more demand from the student body.