With the climate crisis now at the forefront of student-activist concern, the initiative to encourage sustainable practices has thankfully become more popular among college campuses — but we are not yet in the clear.
On Wednesday evening, A.S. voted on the UCSD Student Sustainability Collective’s proposal to divest coal-mining companies from UCSD funds. According to www.wearepowershift.org (the official website of one of the nation’s leading campaign groups for sustainable practices in Universities), students should pressure their colleges to cut financial ties with the coal industry in an attempt to diminish coal’s influence and financial power and to curb its damaging pollution. In this spirit, the SSC also proposed that UCSD reinvest these funds in eco-friendly, sustainable energy companies such as those in the wind or solar power businesses.
It was imperative that the divestment pass for a number of reasons. According to Power Shift, there are 21,000 deaths and 24,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. that can be attributed to the ecological effects of burning coal. Mining and burning coal also damages the environment, as coal is the largest U.S. contributor to worldwide greenhouse gas pollution. What’s more, investing in coal is not economically sound. More than half of the coal plants in the U.S. are either in need of costly repairs or becoming old and inefficient in competition with increased long-term sustainable energy solutions.
But while this is an important step for UCSD, and divesting fossil fuel companies is certainly a positive goal, we can take more concrete steps as a campus to reduce our carbon footprint locally.
Parking on campus is a nightmare, and the shuttle system is bleeding financially. What better reason could you have to ride your bike to school? But alas, aside from a lack of motivation and the undeniable fact that UCSD is built upon one giant hill, many students who can ride their bikes to school don’t simply because UCSD offers very few accommodations for the commuting cyclist.
Unlike UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara (both of which offer campus-wide cycling roads complete with lanes, roundabouts and plenty of bike parking), UCSD has no designated bike paths. The only way into campus on a bike is up the steep and congested entrance at Via La Jolla or the equally cramped bike lane-less Voigt. More accommodations for cyclists could significantly reduce the amount of carbon emissions on campus, while dually encouraging a healthy form of exercise and transportation for student commuters.
If biking to school isn’t a feasible option for some, car sharing is another simple way that students can take responsibility for preserving the environment. Organizing carpools to and from campus is an extremely effective way to cut down on carbon emissions as well as gas prices (and make some new UCSD friends).
The car rental company Zipcar is also a fantastic alternative. Renters are given a “zipcard” which they use to unlock a rental car parked conveniently on campus. The payment and reservation process is relatively cheap and can take place entirely on a smartphone. Zipcar even offers discount rates for UCSD students. According to Zipcar’s website, each zipcar takes approximately 20 personal vehicles off the road, and each renter saves an average of 219 gallons of gas per year. Visit www.zipcar.com for more information.
Saving the planet will ultimately come down to individual responsibility. At UCSD, we’re lucky to have on-campus organizations like the SSC that are willing to lobby for environmentally friendly practices such as divesting coal companies of UC money, but there’s a lot the individual student can do to contribute. UCSD has often been rated one of the most economically sustainable campuses in the country, so let’s live up to that reputation by also being one of the most ecologically sustainable.