Posts Tagged 'Environment'

Give Us Our Dining Trays!

Hamza Usmani

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The September 26th issue of The Middlebury Campus ran a story on the decision of Dining Services to remove trays from the dining halls. In that article, they quoted Mathew Biette, the head of dining services, as saying that the decision to take out the trays was made ‘swiftly’ because some students told him that if he put the decision up for discussion, it would never be implemented. Well, that’s obvious.

Dining Services is not exactly a corporation—and hence their primary objective should not be profit maximization. They are service providers, and their main aim should be to provide the best possible service to their patrons.

If we don’t take drastic steps to save the environment, we will regret our inaction in the future. However, environmental action needs to be done intelligently. It is very easy to propose that cars should be banned because they produce pollution, but it takes some creativity and intelligence to figure out a way to save the environment while also not destroying people’s lifestyle by denying them their basic means of transportation. If we make a list of things that produce pollution, we’d never be able to stop. Even the computer that I’m using right now produces pollution. But would I do away with it in order to help the environment? No, because it creates a very insignificant amount of pollution, and removing it would seriously impair my lifestyle.

If the dining service honchos claim that removing trays from dining halls is going to help the environment, they need to prove it. Please don’t tell me that the math they have presented qualifies as proof. In fact, I would think of this as an insult to the Middlebury College students. If they are listing reasons like ‘removing trays would reduce water spillage in the kitchen and less people would fall’ it just means that they themselves are not convinced about the strength of their basic reason to take the trays out. If they are so convinced, they should be willing to answer our questions.

There has been some whispering going on that the real reason to remove trays from the dining halls was to cut costs, and environmental sustainability was used as a cover because we all know it is not “in fashion” to question anything environmental. If this indeed is true, I’d say the Dining Services played their game really poorly. By using environmentalism as a cover-up, they not only put their own credibility at stake but also potentially tarnished the integrity of the environmental cause. If Dining Services were low on budget and they were finding it hard to run the operation with the amount of funding that they had, they should have taken the students into confidence about that. The students, who are interested in having a good dining experience, and who pay a college fee which increases by $2000-$2500 every year would definitely have raised their voices to help the dining services.

Consider this: a regular student who paid a $44,000 comprehensive fee last year was presented with a dining service that offered trays. The same student, after paying $46,910 this year, is now getting a dining experience without trays. If that student comes to know that despite him or his parents paying a higher fee this year, the college dining services is having financial problems, he would want to do something about that because he’d be concerned.

Here I need to reiterate why Dining Services have less of a right to remove trays from dining halls than they think they have. Fortunately or unfortunately, if one is living on campus it is impossible to opt out of the meal-plan. In other words, Dining halls are a student’s primary source of food. Yet another way to phrase this would be saying that students are stuck with the dining halls. So given this, if the dining halls decide to remove a service that students were enjoying before, the students cannot just act like ‘consumers’ in a market economy—they can’t just boycott eating at the dining halls and look for alternatives. This is the reason why I said earlier that dining halls are not commercial enterprises but are rather service providers. They are here to serve the student body, and all their actions—whether aimed at cutting costs or benefiting the environment—need to be sanctioned by the students. Otherwise it would essentially be a breach of contract.

I personally tried to contact the dining managers and ask them the rationale for removing trays. Unfortunately, the crux of the response that I got was that the decision to remove trays was ‘firm and is unlikely to change.’ There are two problems with this attitude. First, they are not open to any sort of dialogue. Second, they are acting stubborn about this, which is odd for a place like Middlebury. Everyone remembers what happened with the college logo episode: the college came up with a new logo without consulting students, the students protested, the college officials maintained their stance that the new logo is good and change takes time to get accepted, the students gave their arguments and the college officials realized that perhaps the students were correct. If the college can revise its decision about the logo, what makes Dining Services think they are infallible?

In the end, another point that I’d like to raise is that the dining services would be unable to provide examples from any peer institution of dining halls running without trays. Even cheap fast food restaurants have trays; the restaurants which do not have trays are the ones where there are people to wait the tables. An eatery with a buffet arrangement simply has to provide trays to save the hassle of making multiple trips and handling more stuff than they could handle.

The fact of the matter is that we are worse off than before, even though we are paying more. What’s worse is that the stated benefit of taking away something we enjoyed, in this case (environmental sustainability) remains dubious, which is quite a shame.

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A Return fom the “Wild”

Antoine Gara

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This weekend, I went to see Sean Penn’s adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book Into the Wild. The book was an extension of an essay Krakauer submitted to Outside Magazine in 1993. The article chronicled the puzzling journey of college grad Chris McCandless as he marched across the United States and into the Alaskan wilderness with few provisions. From its first telling in Outside Magazine to its current movie adaptation, McCandless’s story resonates in deep and varied ways with audiences. The story charms and it offends; it forces a spectrum of judgments about the ambition and the weight of Chris’s odyssey. Chris searched the extremes of his being for meaning and his experiences touches us. But all that has changed.

When I read the book, I was a high school senior who trusted in the act of intellectual pursuit. I liked Chris because he embodied the idealism I believed so strongly in, and I respected the amount of research he had done to that end. As a college senior, his idealism didn’t impress me as much as his kinship with the environment. I was more aware of Chris’s abundant love for the outdoors and his attempt at sustainable living. In these times of globalization, self-reliance is kind of out of style.

Chris was first introduced to America in 1993, and now it’s 2007. Early readers of the book wondered whether it was stupid to go to Alaska without sufficient provisions, and they judged the morality of his abandonment of society. It was a call of the wild, and we didn’t know whether to pick it up on our fancy landline phones. There seemed to be an immense border cutting between Chris in the wild, and us everyday citizens of America. Today, the border seems more fluid.

For better or worse, it is obvious now that Chris made us all more aware of our estrangement from the natural world and showed us a way to live under its rule, at least momentarily. The tragedy of Chris’s story is that if he had survived he could have been an incredible ambassador for us all. Yet his death made him a martyr— an embodiment of the fissure between nature and society.

That is why seeing Chris again made me glad that I am not an absolute intellectual and continue to live an active life. Every once in a while, when I put my books down, I realize how much they enrich what I do. In 2007, it is clear that Chris died because he could not find a way to channel his immense love of nature and his intellectual pursuits in a productive way. The best environmentalists and intellectuals create a kindred relationship between corridors of intellectual discovery and the physical neighboring world. It is a shame Chris is not around to see that this practice is becoming increasingly popular in our modern society.

Tired of the Tire Sculpture?

Daniel Roberts

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Pretty much since the day I returned to campus this past September I have publicly lamented the presence of what has been nicknamed the “Tire Monster,” the “Trash Sculpture” and even “Tire-rrhea.” The work is Solid State Change, an atrocity to some and an eco-friendly work of beauty to others.

So on October 25, when the artist Deborah Fisher was scheduled to give a lecture on her sculpture, I knew I had to attend. After all, it was only fair to hear her out.

Fisher said very little about the piece’s meaning. Before creating the work, she had been looking at charts of Vermont’s geology, and she did illustrate for us how the shape of the piece vaguely resembles Middlebury’s bedrock. In terms of the piece’s symbolism, and what it attempts to do, she insisted on repeating that it was all about moving towards a greater understanding of the environment and the world around us as whole— investigating the “outside” of ourselves. The question remains: how does a heap of recycled tires accomplish this?

The lecture really took off when we arrived at the Q&A period. One person asked Fisher politely what she felt about the criticism that her piece does not use the space well— that it looks more like trash, and less like art, because it sits heaped against a wall. Why not put it out in a public space, perhaps on a platform? Fisher answered that this would put the work on a pedestal, and this is not what she wants. She elaborated that she would not even like it to be on a bed of gravel or something similar, because this would put it on a stage. And yet, it is a work of art that the College spent a lot of money on— why not put it on a stage?

Biology professor Steve Trombulak posited, “Your choice of material may be appropriate for New York City, but not for rural Vermont. What do you say to that?” Fisher was speechless. I couldn’t help but feel Trombulak’s bold query, though aggressive, was a fair one. After all, Fisher revealed that in New York, she lives directly next door to a tire recycling plant that gave her the materials for free. This has to make one wonder if the choice of tires was not meaningful, but rather convenient. Trombulak added, “I ask this because the work was commissioned for a specific place and you were paid to create this specifically for Middlebury. It’s not like you made this on a whim, brought it to the flea market, and then the board of trustees walked by and said, ‘Ooh, we want to buy that for the College.’” Fisher answered, “It is what it is. It’s 6,000 pounds of garbage that I screwed together all by myself.” Exactly.

Finally, they said they had time for one more question. I cautiously raised my hand and asked, “You label yourself an environmentalist, and you purport to make environmental art, so I just wonder how you reconcile the fact that a very rich college paid you a lot of money to make this sculpture. Doesn’t that contradict the whole environmental mindset and seem to only reinforce commercialism?” Rather than taking offense, Fisher said, “That is the best question anyone asked today.” Then she thought for a moment before agreeing that, indeed, “That’s the question to be asking right now. It’s true, it’s a great point.” Her avoidance of any real answer is no surprise— what could she really say? No single person can decide how art can or should be taken in conceptual terms.

After the lecture, I went to a dinner with Fisher and some other faculty members and students. We ate our meal and discussed other artworks, as well as philosophies on art and life in general. Fisher was a genuinely interesting woman who had numerous compelling things to say about art, and I found myself intrigued.

I would love to say right here that eating dinner with Fisher and speaking to her face-to-face made me change my mind about the sculpture. Yet, the experience did not at all lead me to “see the light.” I respect Fisher as a person, and I understand and admire the College’s efforts to find provocative art for our campus, but the truth remains: this thing is ugly and detracts from the beauty of our lovely school.

The main defense that people kept making at dinner when we discussed the work’s reception was that, “It got people talking.” This phrase was repeated as though the sparking of resentment alone creates merit for something’s existence. I cannot agree. By that regard, the homophobic hate speech scrawled on the walls of Ross Dining Hall was valuable artwork on our campus, because it inspired discussion and debate.

It’s like Fisher said at one point during her lecture: “In a cultural movement that feels like individuals have no power, I believe Solid State Change is one person’s way of making an impact.” It’s true, she did make an impact; she got us talking. Yet there was a physical impact as well— she plopped down some trash onto our otherwise pristine home.

Paper or Plastic?

Tarsi Dunlop of the Middlebury Roosevelt Institution

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Checking out at the grocery store often puts me in a moral dilemma: paper bags may involve the destruction of numerous trees, but they also take up less space in a landfill compared to plastic. Plastic bags stick around for thousands of years. So, which is better? Ideally, it is actually choice number three: reusable cloth bags. What sort of encouragement might help people remember to bring a few bags with them when they shop? One answer, summarized by Olivia Katz, a Middlebury College graduate, is to instate a small tax on every paper bag used.

This idea is remarkably straightforward. Each bag would have a certain tax on it, small enough so that a trip to the store without one’s own bags would yield no more than a dollar or so in tax. The proceeds would go towards environmental non-profits for research or to other eco-friendly efforts. This idea, tested in places such as San Francisco and the Netherlands, actually has resulted in a notable drop in the number of people using plastic and paper bags.

While we may not solve the energy crisis over night, a small tax at our food stores could serve as a handy little reminder to each shopper— bring your own cloth bag.

An Unnoticed Waste of Energy

Connor Burleigh

Middlebury claims to be very eco-friendly, but even having been here for only 3 months, I can already see gaps in college policy. Every light in every hallway in every residential building is on 24/7. This is a ridiculous waste of energy. I realize that the there must be a permanent source of lighting in the halls, but it can’t be that hard to put the lights on motion sensors, which would significantly reduce wasted energy. I realize that it would be an expensive project, but it is not like we do not have the money. If the college is as committed to eco-friendliness as it claims, it would be worth the cost.

Candlelit Dinners at Proctor Miss Their Mark

Daniel Watson-Jones

Let me first say that when it comes to energy-use and the environment, my mind is as green as the next person’s. I wholeheartedly believe in the need to reduce the negative footprint that humans have on the natural world, and it’s important to me that we actively work to reverse the patterns of consumption and waste that have become so easy and familiar to us. However, I hate using candles to eat dinner and I think the larger goal of doing so is completely missed by those aiming for it.

My assumption is that the people advocating the use of candles (instead of the overhead lighting) during the dinner hours want to remind students of the energy usage that we often take for granted, and to draw attention to the many ways in which we can conserve on a daily basis. Instead, they inconvenience everyone and only service a gallant gesture that lacks substance or forethought. The overhead lights are left on for breakfast and lunch, the two meals of the day when natural light is actually available, and are turned off for the one third of meals when extra lighting is actually necessary. It makes no sense.

It’s not even that all the lights are turned off and replaced with the somewhat romantic and amusing atmosphere of candlelight; I enjoy the occasional change of pace as much as the next person.  Yet rather than turn them all off, only a portion of the fluorescents (and in Proctor they’re replaced by the less-efficient-but-dimmer emergency lights) are shut off, which turns the whole escapade into something worse than a gallant gesture: a half-assed gallant gesture. The final outcome is that all the good intentions behind the conservation movement come off as both irritating and irrational.

More importantly, when I drop my fork I can’t find it without groping around in the dark.

Canvassing for MASSPIRG

Simone Weisman

Recently over lunch, I discussed the representation of environmental issues with a friend. I had spent part of the past summer canvassing for MASSPIRG, Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, in order to get the global warming bill passed for the state. I wore one of those stupid shirts, held a clipboard with all the information on how screwed the planet was, and waved at people, asking them if they had a minute for the environment.

“Did you really think you were going to get people to care about the environment that way?” my friend asked. “By standing in the street accosting people, I’m sure all you did was turn people off from the issues.”

“Yeah, a lot of people did ignore me,” I said. For a moment, I recalled the humiliating, humbling and terrifying nature of canvassing. The street was the real world, and I had been in its face. It was dirty, sweaty, and no matter what anybody said to me, I had to keep smiling and giving my rap.

“Exactly,” my friend said. “People see someone like you selling environmental health on the street, and they start associating issues like global warming with peace–loving, hippie bullshit.”

“Maybe so,” I said, wishing I could defend myself. Then I remembered that for every fifteen people who didn’t stop and talk to me, there were always one or two who did. It had been fascinating, entertaining and sometimes shocking to hear their responses to my spiel about rising sea levels, receding coastlines, and melting glaciers. From the beginning, I had kept a log:
I like my fossil fuels!

Well, the thing is, we’re Jehovah’s witnesses, and we really feel as though it’s up to God to save our planet.

You wouldn’t have a job if the environment weren’t being destroyed.

Global warming doesn’t exist! Don’t talk to me about this propaganda shit. You’re a tree-hugging hippie.

Do you believe in the Ten Commandments? Here, take a bible.

We’re going to ruin the environment no matter what we do. It’s too late.

There’s my cell phone number on that sign up sheet if you ever want to call me for a date.

You know what I do about global warming? I turn my air conditioner up.

There’s no categorical proof that sea levels have risen.

I’m not fighting to stop Global Warming. I’ve done enough fighting in my lifetime.

I’ve only got two years left to live, so not much I can do now.

I have an anxiety disorder.

MASSPIRG? More like MASSPURGE!

I gave the speech over and over again. I even gave it in Spanish and French. There were many times when I got sick of standing in the same spot, telling people that Governor Romney had backed Massachusetts out of a regional plan to cut global warming pollution, how the state was losing 64 acres of coastland a year, and how the best way to support the group’s effort in pushing the legislation was to become a member of MASSPIRG. One day, I stood in a rainstorm with a broken umbrella and a plastic bag that held the supplies of a fellow canvasser that had quit on the spot.

Most people working for MASSPIRG don’t last longer than two days. It is kind of like the army. You either are not qualified, so you get cut, or you desert. Why did I keep doing it, then? Well, I guess it was for those few people who did hear me. I raised close to 400 dollars a day for the group, and got people thinking about the issue.

“Did the bill get passed?” my friend asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “It did.”