Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

‘Focus the Nation’ culminates with Ervin speech

Labeled as the largest teach-in in U.S. history, last week’s “Focus the Nation” festivities ended with a nation-wide series of lectures, forums and workshops on global climate change last Thursday.

Whitman’s week of events was capped by a lecture by Christine Ervin, assistant secretary of energy under Clinton, followed by a panel discussion between the presidents of the three Walla Walla colleges.

Walla Walla city councilwoman Barbara Clark opened the evening talking about what the city is doing to be more environmentally conscious. Highlighting programs from the city’s new LED holiday lights to the plans to use recycled glass in street repairs, Clark saw Walla Walla’s future as promising.

“It’s time for us to say [environmentally sustainability] is simply city policy…We’re off to a good start, but there’s still a lot to be done,” said Clark.

Ervin, the first president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, currently runs her own company that consults and educates on green building and alternative energy use. Ervin’s talk focused on the need to rethink how we build and design our spaces in order to create an economically and environmentally sustainable society.

According to Ervin, buildings, which are the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (48 percent) in the U.S., can dramatically reduce their environmental footprint with the simple use of current technology.

Green building takes into account the location of the building site, how the site is developed, the materials, water and energy use, availability of materials and livability of a space.

“You don’t have to give up other characteristics while supporting green building practices,” said Ervin. While green building may be initially daunting, Ervin emphasized that it is not only necessary but will also render large pay-outs in the long run.

“Global climate change is not just an environmental issue…it’s a jobs issue, an ethical issue and an economic issue,” said Ervin. “The fact that [redesigning how we build] will cost 20 times more if we don’t do it is really why we need to do it.”

The evening concluded with a panel discussion between George Bridges; John McVay, president of Walla Walla University; and Steve VanAusdle, president of Walla Walla Community College. Each president highlighted environmental efforts at each of their colleges.

McVay stressed student-led efforts. VanAusdle discussed the new water and environment center at the school and planting irrigation-free wine grapes instead of grass. Bridges talked about how the school has stopped buying bottled water for events and seeks to increase the educational facilities to prepare students to change the world.

While there were lots of jokes about wine and non-concrete references to “developing a new vision” and “striving for sustainability,” organizers and attendees found the panel fruitful.

“Tonight was especially productive. To actually get the presidents on the spot with the students and community members questions so that they’re actually making commitments…[ensures] we actually take a stand and follow through on our commitments,” said organizer, sophomore Katie Rouse.

“It’s ground-breaking for three presidents from Walla Walla to sit down in a room and make commitments,” said Jesse Phillips, a Whitman junior who also helped organize the event.

“I think [the presidents] motivate each other to do more things,” said senior Brittany Smith, who also helped put on the week.

Some students expressed dismay that the presidents didn’t seem to have been well-prepared for the panel. They said that the discussion was more focused on broad college philosophy than active brainstorming of cross-institutional solutions to global climate change.

“I mean, it was definitely a good thing, but I would have liked to hear them actually discuss things and talk more about what they could do to work together. I don’t know if that was emphasized when they were informed of the panel, but I think that would have been a maybe more helpful angle to take,” said senior Marina Heppenstall.

“We got two big, unexpected commitments from George Bridges which was wonderful, and a big surprise,” said Rouse, in reference to Bridges’ announcements of a new $100,000 fund for innovative, student-devised projects that encourage global and local change and the hiring of a sustainability coordinator in the next two or three years.

“Climate change is a very global issue, but this week had a very human focus,” said Phillips. “It makes me, personally, want to keep pushing to get involved in the larger community…we need to keep pushing as hard as we can for institutional change on a big scale.”

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