UP must not lose sight of sustainability

By The Beacon | March 6, 2014 2:35am

In 2010, awareness of climate change was at an apex. One survey found that 97-98 percent of climate researchers agreed that human activity is currently influencing global temperatures.

In 2010, UP played its part in the global fight against climate change.

For the past several years, the University has demonstrated a progressive attitude toward becoming a sustainable and environmentally conscious university. Donald P. Shiley Hall earned a LEED Platinum certification (the highest level) for being an environmentally friendly building. Also in 2010, UP banned the sale of bottled water, becoming the first university on the West Coast to do so.

A year later, UP hosted renowned writer Michael Pollan as the keynote speaker of Focus the Nation, a national convention intended to build support for the movement towards sustainability. The Chiles Center was packed with students and community members eager to hear what Pollan had to say about food sustainability.

In 2014, weather patterns across the country are out of whack. A drought in California threatens to increase food prices due to a poor harvest, the polar vortex froze the whole nation and snow still covers much of the East Coast. Many climate experts have suggested this year’s drought could be indicative of future years, as the results of our careless emission of carbon unfold.

In 2014, what is UP doing to promote sustainability?

Not much.

The past two years, the Office of Residence Life sponsored UP’s participation in the Campus Conservation Nationals, a competition in which universities across the nation compete to reduce water and electricity usage. This year, Residence Life chose not to participate in the event.

When this year’s juniors and seniors were prospective freshmen touring campus, tour guides were sure to point out that the recently renovated Shiley was LEED certified. Now, the Clark Library is the shiny new building for campus tours, but it boasts no such impressive claims about its sustainability value.

The Presidential Advisory Committee on Sustainability, which helped bring Focus the Nation to campus, has not met for months, and if the committee’s website is any indicator, they haven’t been doing much work lately to advise the president on sustainability.

UP is losing sight of its commitment to sustainability.

The University may be slowing down in its commitment to combating climate change, but unfortunately, climate change is not slowing down. According to the National Climatic Data Center, January was the 347th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

The University’s website states that “University of Portland is committed to living and acting sustainably.” Well, maybe we were committed in 2010. But much of what made UP a leading university in sustainability issues has gone by the wayside.

As the climate becomes ever more unpredictable, this loss of commitment to being good stewards of the earth is a shame.