Soothsayer explains elaborate web of administrator’s recycle-themed lies
by Camille Danielich
“It’s not easy being green.”This twangy melody, popularized by Kermit the Frog, remains a pertinent battle hymn in our efforts to promote sustainability. No, Kermit, it isn’t.
What is easy is greenwashing, creating a public front of sustainable or environmentally friendly actions while in actuality, doing little to further the cause on a larger scale. “Recyclemania” and the sustainability pledge on the Fordham homepage that promotes “sustainability as a central consideration in all aspects of its activities including its curriculum, student development and education, faculty and staff involvement, and physical plant operations,” seem like important steps in the right direction, but are they enough?
It is easy to proclaim to be “green,” to be “environmentally aware,” but according to GreenReportCard, Fordham only recycles about 20% of waste from traditional disposal, and the less than stellar grade on the overall sustainability report for 2011 (C+) indicates that the whole of Fordham’s sustainability movement still overpowers the positivity of contributing parts.
Assuming that the largest factor of the University’s sustainability is its energy usage, let’s examine the origin of the power we use everyday. Fordham’s melange of electricity purchased from utility companies is 91% unsustainable and/or fossil fuel based- comprised half of coal, 21% Natural Gas, 19% Nuclear, and 2% Petroleum. Only 9% is renewable. Additionally, a whopping 97% of overall BTUs (unit measurement of energy created by combustion) comes from Natural gas; the remaining 3% from petroleum. So what, exactly, is the big deal? The lack of a legitimate investment in the University’s future.
One might point to the increased dependence on natural gas that “is estimated to reduce Fordham’s carbon emissions by over 12 percent annually” according to a “Fordham Marketing and Communications” report. This is not an isolated ideology. Buffeted by coal and carbon backlash, increasing amounts of businesses and universities have turned to fracked natural gas as a profitable “bridge fuel,” both in usage and in investment. Though Fordham will not disclose information about endowment holdings or shareholdings, we cannot determine what percentage of our endowment is invested in unsustainable energy (fracked natural gas), but we can assume a fair portion of it is. This poses an immense problem. Aside from the complications of fracking- pressurized drilling combined with a chemical concoction that has been known to seep into groundwater, creating environmental and health consequences, the logistics of natural gas use are not spectacular.
Before you shoot the messenger, consider this: though the c-word has engendered alarm, concern, and a special position of hate in todays vernacular, the m-word has been sorely neglected. Methane, which is released when natural gas is burned, is twenty-five times more potent (than carbon emissions) over a century, as reported by Think Progress. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has uncovered large natural gas fields (specifically in Colorado and Utah) containing massive leaks, effectively dumping 4-9% methane into the atmosphere — a catastrophic cocktail for the future. Findings by NOAA and the EPA in April 2012, proclaimed that a large scale shift to gas (from coal) would ‘reduce technology warming potentials’ by about 25% over the first three decades, which is far different than the typical statement that you get a 50% drop in CO2 emissions from the switch. And that assumed a total methane leakage of 2.4% (using EPA’s latest estimate).” The study concluded that if the total methane leakage in natural gas fields exceeds 3.2% “gas becomes worse for the climate than coal for at least some period of time.”
Natural gas is in no way sustainable, and Fordham’s usage of it and investment in it nullifies our commitment to sustainable power. This is where the Fordham Divestment Campaign comes in. Divestment, according to Fossil Free, is the motion to freeze any current investments in fossil fuel companies and gradually remove investment in “direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years”. Present in 343 colleges and universities across the United States, divestment has been achieved at College of the Atlantic, Unity, and Hampshire College. Serious intentions and investigations to divest have been launched at Tufts, Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore and Middlebury. This flood of sustainable thought and action has swept to every corner of the United States, and even to our nation’s capital, where roughly 40,000 gathered last month to protest climate change. The Fordham community extends not to the limits of our iron gates, but to the city of New York. Remaining blind to the necessity and responsibility of divestment contradicts both the global citizen that Fordham looks to cultivate and our own Jesuit mission statement to foster the moral and intellectual development of its students.