Our winter consisted of nearly two months of record-breaking warmth. A time of the year normally reserved for snow angels and ski slopes quickly turned into a bust. Some places were so warm the ski areas couldn’t even make snow.All this mere weeks before one of the coldest January-February stretches on record.
So what the hell is going on?
A few weeks after the world’s leading climate change scientists concluded — for the first time — that global warming is “unequivocal” and humans are more than likely the culprits.
And a few days before “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Oscar for best documentary, this reporter decided to find out what people around campus thought about the recent report and global warming in general.
An environmentally-conscious state like Vermont was bound to have some environmentally conscious college faculty and students.
“At this point they are in denial,” said Paul Derby, a professor and coordinator of both the Green Campus Initiative for CSC and the recycling program on campus. The “they” he referred to are the detractor’s, the people who claim that global warming is a myth concocted by journalists and liberal politicians.
“Either that or they have an agenda,” he added, laughing.
Strangely, it’s not quite a laughing matter.
After the study came out, it was revealed that the Exxon/Mobil Corp. was offering $100,000 to any scientists willing to debunk the study, a reminder that some companies will do anything to keep profits up.
Derby and the students in his anthropology and environment class began researching campus recycling programs at other campuses in the spring of 2005 and presented their findings to President David Wolk at the end of the semester. Soon after, their recycling plan for campus was embraced by Wolk, and the school became a part of the Green Campus Initiative, a three-year plan to make the campus “green”.
“I think the report will have an impact on the general public,” Derby said. “People are sort of grasping on to the reality (of global warming). I’m really very optimistic.”
The climate report, which was released on Feb. 2, states that global warming will have a significant impact on the U.S.
It will cause drier conditions in the Southwest, more rainfall in the Pacific Northwest and New England, less snow in the Rockies and more hurricanes and flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
The group states in the report that carbon dioxide, along with other greenhouse-trapping gases, have been the most significant factor to our climate with almost complete (over 90%) certainty.
President David Wolk and the college, however, aren’t planning on contributing to this trend any more than they have to.
“I believe it’s a serious issue,” said Wolk, referring to global warming. “Obviously, we took the lead two years ago with what is probably the most comprehensive recycling program (possible).”
When asked about the Campus Green Initiative, Wolk obviously has strong feelings.
“We take it seriously and mostly through the work of staff and students we’ve really taken the lead,” he said.
He went on to explain how the college is attempting to curb its contribution the global warming problem,
It will eventually turning the entire CSC fleet of vehicles into hybrids (already, a Toyota Prius and two Honda Civics are in use, with more vehicles to be purchased this spring). All paper products are bought recycled (when possible) and a planned compost pile will turn potential greenhouse-gas-producing, landfill-clogging waste into soil.
And more energy efficient lighting and censors for lighting and heat that measure the amount of energy put out have been installed.
All this to ensure that the campus is, as Wolk put it, “not just Castleton green.”
And what of the students?
Most of the work for the recycling project and a slightly newer project, a club that is working on converting much of Huden’s wasted oils into usable fuel, is done by the students. While showing that many students on campus care enough about the environment to actually go out and do something to help, the groups work also works as a motivation for other students.
“I hope it works the first time, so maybe other people and campuses will do the same thing, get the community into it” said Jen Mitchell, a junior.
Senior Brett Kornblum echoed those wishes, that the green effort will involve more than just the Castleton campus.
“Something like this is very good for the school. I think we should try and expand it, maybe, to outside of campus, maybe into the community” he said as he carried a bulging garbage bag of bottles to his car. “I’m actually going to get rid of these right now, recycle them down at the store. I figure it’s the very least I can do, help out a little.”
While there are no plans to move the program outside of the school, some students think its good enough to start right here.
“It gets students involved with something that really matters,” said Lene Ballard, a junior and coordinator of Green Monday, the recycling program where on Monday’s students go around with student athletes, clubs and faculty and staff to collect recyclables.
“In two more years, once the sophomores this year are seniors, everyone in the school will have recycled,” she said, beaming. “That’s the plan, that’s what we’re doing.”
While the climate report states with such certainty that the vast majority of reasons for global warming stem directly from human beings, some still warn that we should err on the side of caution.
“The one thing about climate is that it’s always changing,” said Jeremy Davis, manager and senior meteorologist at North Country Weather, a private weather company in Glens Falls, N.Y.
He says that unpredictable phenomena, such as a large volcanic eruption (which hasn’t happened in years) can lower the Earth’s temperature 2 to 3 degrees lower than it is now. Higher temps in the arctic can also produce larger amounts of snowfall in other areas of the world. The climate is changing, but as Davis puts it “The Earth’s been heating up since the last Ice Age.”
Davis, however, by no means thinks that people shouldn’t be working to help change things.
“But should we at least do things to try and mitigate (global warming)? Definitely. In terms of doing stuff to help out the environment, absolutely,” he said.
To people who thought that the jury was still out when it came to the science of global warming, a blow has been dealt. For the first time in history the climate report scientists have come back with an unequivocal study, with proof that humans are damaging to the environment. While the study seems dire, there is hope: the report does say that, with prompt and widespread action the warming can be substantially slowed.
To end the interview, Derby told a story about a conference he went to that opened his eyes to the dangers of global warming. Aside from the abundance of evidence and epiphany-inducing presentations, Derby remembers one thing that moved him most: a professor, speaking to his students about global warming, apologized to them. He apologized for everything that he had done in the past to exacerbate the problem of global warming and for the Earth that he and the generations before him have left his young pupils.
Derby hopes that this climate report will help people to realize that it isn’t too late to make sure no one has to make that same apology.