Goin’ green: Orr believes campus can

Visiting environmentalist David Orr has suggested a goal for Chico State University: a climatically neutral campus by 2020. That would mean buildings that are net producers of energy, emitting no ozone-depleting substances. It’s an idea that’s intrigued campus leaders and one that, if mirrored at universities across the nation, could spark a new climate policy at the legislative level.

Orr is the author of three books, including The Campus and Environmental Responsibility. Chairman of the Environmental Studies Program at Ohio’s Oberlin College, Orr led the $7.4 million construction of an innovative, climate-friendly Environmental Studies Center there.

Orr, who last week spoke at two public events and met with campus leaders at Chico State University, is both hopeful and pessimistic about the Earth’s future. He believes in a new “climate policy,” in which the U.S. government would accept that global warming exists and move away from fossil fuels and toward alternative energy, and that the movement could emerge from college campuses.

But at a Sept. 13 breakfast near Big Chico Creek with about a dozen environmentally minded students, Orr said the task is made more difficult because citizens today, even the well-intentioned ones, are “intellectually lazy” with short attention spans. Plus, the corporate, mainstream media present the issues of greenhouse gases and the lack of biodiversity as a matter of that’s up for debate rather than sound science.

He said the planet is dying, and “We as a culture spend a lot of time denying death. We all know this is going on—all of us have a sense of grief. [And] we grieve at a level that we don’t fully comprehend.”

Politics motivates the environmental status quo, Orr said at his Sept. 13 speech. And the far right, in its approach, has one up on the closed-circled lefties: “While we’re getting in touch with nature, they’re getting in touch with Middle America.

“You are the least-engaged generation ever,” he added. “We need you back in the political arena.”

Chico State President Manuel Esteban has expressed interest in working toward a “green” campus, related Professor Mark Stemen, who is involved in the campus’s new 20-year master plan. Orr praised Chico students’ commitment to recycling and the beauty of the campus. But he pointed out the miles the school has to go. For example, he said in reference to solar power, “You’ve got sunshine here—use it!”

Students active in the environmental movement also hope that, if the Wildcat Activity Center is built, it will be a “green” building. Orr was impressed that the students, via the Associated Students, own the bookstore and food services on campus. “This is incredible leverage,” he said.

Orr urged students to present an energetic and joyous front as they promote environmental consciousness. “We have to celebrate,” he said. “This movement, if it’s long-phased and gloomy, is not going to attract people to it.”

Orr, who had to cancel a visit planned for a year ago in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, spoke courtesy of a environmental literacy endowment established by Jack Rawlins.