In My Own Words: Calling All Energy Hogs

PITZER'S EFFORTS TO BETTER protect our environment should come as no surprise to anyone affiliated with this institution. Since the school's conception in the socially turbulent 1960's, Pitzer has consistently taken a socially responsible approach to both its operations and to the education of its students. Indeed, social responsibility is one of six educational objectives established by the College, and over the years the school's efforts to emphasize this objective has garnered Pitzer national acclaim from the likes of Mother Jones Magazine, Diversity Digest and the National Wildlife Federation, just to name a few.

In recent years, Pitzer has once again “stepped up to the plate” in a big way to take aim at an old, but rejuvenated social issue—environmental sustainability. Fueled by concern over global warming, the government, the media and the public are once again concerned about the future of our natural world. But while the political debate over what to do about human impact on the global environment drags on, Pitzer and its students have taken action with a progressive agenda to promote environmental sustainability. The school has adopted “The Statement of Environmental Policy and Principles,” has implemented composting and campus xeriscaping, developed the Green Bike Program, and, in its most crowning achievement, opened the first of its kind environmentally friendly residence halls.

As a 1991 graduate of Pitzer's Environmental Studies program, I gleam with pride over the fact that the College has voluntarily chosen to make the environment a priority. I also have a strong inkling that most of the Pitzer's graduates tend to follow suit. I know that in my personal life, I have taken voluntary steps to reduce my environmental footprint by making energy-conscious choices in the products I buy, building a worm composting box in my backyard, replacing every bulb in my house with a compact florescent bulb, and driving a hybrid car. These are values that my Pitzer education helped instill in me.

Unfortunately, not everyone, including our own governmental leaders, has demonstrated the leadership that Pitzer, its students and its graduates have on the issue of environmental sustainability. Indeed, given the opportunity to develop real, honest and binding strategies to cut energy consumption and protect our environment, our governmental leaders seem to have opted instead for gimmicks aimed at distracting the public from an utter lack of political initiative to get us out of the global environmental mess we find ourselves. Take for example the federal government's cartoon “Energy Hog” designed to discourage the public's energy use (www.energyhog.org) or the State of California's “Flex Your Power” advertisements that seek to persuade individuals to spend their own money to replace home appliances (www.fypower.org). These campaigns seem to place the blame for global warming squarely on the shoulders of the American public. And while the guilt we should all feel for our over-consumption is clearly justified, the effect of these government campaigns is probably close to nil in the overall scheme of global energy use.

So while the voluntary efforts of socially minded institutions and individuals certainly must be applauded, given the likely seriousness of the current environmental situation (and even if you only believe half of the science out there on global warming, it is serious), more must be done. It is imperative that the public vehemently react to the government's torpid policymaking. Indeed, it is time for Pitzer faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as all socially minded “energy hogs” to fight for government policies that, among other things, mandate that all existing public facilities, and all new private and public construction in California incorporate the type of environmentally friendly measures that were voluntarily implemented on our campus.

It has been twenty-five years since Professor Paul Shepard asked the question, “Why does society persist in destroying its habitat?” Paul at the time had one answer—society is mad. Well, the actions of some of us suggest that this madness has not completely taken over. But for those of us still sane, the call is clear—convince our leaders to change course once and for all. Let us, Pitzer, once again heed this call.

—Mike Harris '91

Mike Harris '91 is an environmental attorney with the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles. He currently serves as vice president of nominating and strategic planning on Pitzer's Alumni Board. In Spring 2008, he will be a visiting assistant professor of law at the Vermont Law School, the country's foremost environmental law program.