Curb over-energetic environmentalism: Jack Sounds Off

Posted by Jack Ferguson

Have you ever wondered why it costs you money to use your dorm's washing machines? If you haven't and think that's a silly question, consider: housing costs at Skidmore already include your utilities. Why are you made to pay for water and electricity at the washers, and not showers and lights?

One would suppose that the initial costs of those machines have been covered by now. (Ditto the library's charge-only photocopiers, even though you could print out the whole Encyclopedia Britannica at the regular printers, like four feet away, for free.) Is this Skidmore trying to eke us wherever we're eke-able, or is it just the remnants of a peculiar societal habit, some presumption that "they're washers, so pay up"? The yearly start of our "dorm v. dorm challenge" adds a whole new warped convolution to these questions.

To the best of my knowledge this challenge has been running for three years now and every year at least half the members of the winning dorm altered their living habits very-little to not-at-all. The prize for such conservatory zeal includes a pizza party, a raffle for sundry objects and the dorm's name inscribed on a trophy. To be fair, the trophy is probably the coolest piece of sculpture on campus (which I say in all sincerity though I recognize such as quite faint praise indeed).

Every year I am reminded of a class I took on the USSR, in which we learned how especially dedicated workers didn't get wage raises, but rather received badges, certificates and suchlike. I leave it to you to imagine a hungry though industrious worker receiving a trinket, and being expected to smile. The U.S., on the other hand, has prospered under a system of tax incentives by the federal government to the statesand citizens.

Did anyone else have that annoying, cynical voice in the back of his or her head notice how the uproar about global warming receded as the gas prices went back down about three years ago? It seems rather a fact, and not a fault, that we look after our immediate needs and means, and provide and project rather poorly for the distant future. Why can't we initiate a system that caters to our immediate needs as well as our long-term goals?

Skidmore wishes always to further its image as a mutually supportive and nurturing community. Yet once-a-year competitions, appealing to a peculiar, nonexistent patriotism (or I guess dorm-triotism), do not promote this image, but rather fortify our feeling that any beneficial initiative undertaken by the establishment will be short, at worst selfishly motivated and ultimately abortive. In stirs in us no continuous activism, relieves us of no immediate financial burden and seems only to fatten the purses of those we already paid.

And yet, the "dorm v. dorm challenge" is no doubt undertaken in good faith, by a school which has tasked itself to instigate in us a greener, more conservationist mentality; a school that hopes we carry our now energy-conscious minds into the larger world and spur positive change. But such hope seems rooted rather in a misguided, anachronistic communalism. We will not win over the Walmarts of the world by offering them pizza parties for cutting down on emissions. We will win them over on the very terms under which they – and we, us all – were brought into being. ("But I hate the system and its terms!" you say. Nevertheless, your flowers will wilt or go extinct by the time you get anywhere close to depositing their stems down the leveled guns of capitalism.)

I realize this idea grates rather a lot against the environmentalist hard line that people are a scourge and must be checked immediately. But it is up to us to rectify our wrongs in what looks like a rapidly shrinking window, and to do so without extinguishing human life altogether; instead of flying in the face of humanity, we must work alongside the fact of it. Or else environmentalism, along with the rest of us, will fail. You cannot win a war through revolution.

If we have technology capable of tracking our energy output, and we have students bludgeoned by tuition and we also have a global capitalist system in need of revision, why not combine them into a mutually contributive – and reformative – system? Why not reduce (or, heaven forbid, eliminate altogether) the price of washing machines according to our energy consumption? Wouldn't this give us yearlong incentive to be more energy conscious? Maybe this could become campus-wide. Maybe if we're really good then the policy might even extend to those true luxuries such as Xerox machines.

And then maybe we would actually feel like we were all on the same team.

If we are going to effectively combat global warming; if we as a generation are to initiate true change; if we ever hope to wrest some individuality from the faceless consumers we are perceived to be, then it strikes me that we ought to work through the system in order to reform it, in those terms to which our means cohere, and not those that our ideals enjoy. Time is not on our side.

Jack Ferguson is senior history and English double major from Philadelphia, Penn.

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