“So, this is the Athenaeum. It’s a LEED Gold-Certified building which means that it’s super green.” I’m laying on the floor of the Ath lobby hearing this phrase echoed repeatedly from three intersecting tours that have coincidentally all met up in the same place at the same time. It’s GIG (not the fun one, but “Got into Goucher” day), which means that dozens of prospective students are wandering the campus being spoon-fed the idea of Green Goucher.
But the truth is, as much as it may want to be, Goucher is not as green as it professes. There are two major non-sustainable practices that Goucher is currently employing: its treatment of trees, and the college’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels.
Let’s talk trees for a moment: Goucher currently plans to develop an 8-acre area in the front of Dulaney Valley Road, adjacent to the main entrance. This project, kept under wraps possibly to avoid student protest, would destroy approximately 249 trees, according to Dr. Cynthia Kicklighter, associate professor of biology, whose class surveyed the area last fall. It is unknown to whom Goucher will lease the land, but a hotel and/or conference center is the current leader. Dr. Kicklighter speculates that the developer of the land would be someone who aligns with the morals and values of the college.
This raises the question, however, of what those morals and values are. During our admittedly brief research into Goucher’s sustainability practices, we were struck by the disparity of thought between the decision makers and the larger Goucher community. “I think Goucher is trying,” Dr. Kicklighter remarked. It comes down to a matter of economics. The upfront cost of going ‘totally green’ (by investing fully in clean energy, for example) is more than Goucher is capable of shelling out, especially considering all the new construction projects. However, Matt Harmin, Goucher’s Sustainability Coordinator, believes in this day and age it would not be destabilizing for any institution to completely back out of fossil fuel investments – Goucher included.
These projects bring us back to the issue of trees. Like many of us, Dr. Kicklighter and Mr. Harmin remarked that they are saddened by how much foliage is being chopped down to make way for new buildings.
“More will have to come down for the Hoffberger addition,” Dr. Kicklighter observed. Once construction starts on the new equestrian facilities, she continued, they’re going to have to start cutting into the surrounding forest.
While there may be plans to replace the trees once construction is finished, anyone who has studied climate change can attest to the ticking clock that is looming over our planet. The community doesn’t have five or more years to wait for Goucher to replace the dozens (and potentially hundreds) of trees it is mowing down. Moreover, though it may be an uplifting image to picture the community coming together to plant new saplings once the changes have been made, those saplings will have substantially less impact on our wildlife habitats and carbon consumption than the large, decades-old (if not some centuries-old) trees we are losing to these changes.
What can we as students do? Dr. Kicklighter believes that earlier education about sustainability is a good start. It is important that we learn about our institutional impact on the environment so that we can take active measures to avoid harmful practices. Harmin believes student power can be one of the most influential presences on Goucher’s campus, and that power can be leveraged for “student engagement with social and ecological justice.”
“Take the student work policy, for example,” Harmin explains, “Students had the passion and made a difference. This is a good example of how student power can work.” Harmin advises that students need to clarify their concerns and stances and meet with the right people to voice these concerns, in order to stimulate broader discussions and motivate change. Another step is to hold our administration and the trustees accountable for where our money is going and how it is being used. Change starts with caring; caring about our climate and caring about our community. If we want to alter any of these practices, we have to keep the conversation going. This can start with a conversation about our investments and the lack of transparency surrounding them.
We understand. Goucher is a business and, like all businesses, regardless of whether it’s a bank or a community, Goucher needs money in order to keep the lights on. But, in choosing to divest from fossil fuels, Goucher would be making an investment in a sustainable, livable future, and more fully embodying the values it espouses. Goucher cannot claim to be a community-centered institution if it is actively choosing to ignore and destroy its global community.
In the Climate Action Plan that Goucher published in 2011 on how it tracks its environmental impacts and continues to work toward greener practices, Goucher clearly shows they track travel for study abroad in their overall Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) (Climate Action Plan Section 8.0). This is wonderful, and a thoughtful understanding of the impacts of one of Goucher’s values. As the report mentions, study abroad is a fundamental and required component of engagement at Goucher, thus it’s important to counter GHG emissions by investing “in a project that results in the measureable reduction of GHG emissions” (Climate Action Plan Section 13.0).
Why then, do we continue to invest in fossil fuels if we so clearly recognize and work against our carbon footprint in other ways? Fossil fuels are responsible for our climate change—a change that is disproportionately affecting economically poor black and brown communities. In refusing to divest from fossil fuels, Goucher is continuing its history of white supremacy. To date, hundreds of universities and colleges, NGOs, for-profit corporations, and a slew of other organizations have divested from fossil fuels. It’s not an impossible feat. Taking care of the environment is not an impossible feat. We call on you, Goucher College – our students, our faculty and staff – to ignite the conversation. We call on you, Goucher College – our trustees, our administration – to take action. Consider the impact of the changes made on campus and think of alternative solutions to develop the college without the environment paying the price. Divest from fossil fuels. Invest in a sustainable future. Show us that you care.
DAVID J. HILLS & ANNA YOUNG