ELIZANDRO: Sustainable Villanova, sustainable U.S.?

John Elizandro

Upon receiving my housing assignment last week, I was, admittedly, a bit dismayed when I learned that I would be living in Fedigan Hall for my sophomore year. As a business major, Fedigan isn’t particularly close to any of my classes, the rooms are small and the building is isolated from the majority of my class who will be living in the Quad. My spirits were lifted a bit, though, when I learned that Fedigan would be undergoing a major renovation over the summer, and that I will be among the first people to live in the newly-upgraded dormitory.

Among the renovations planned for Fedigan is a series of brand-new, energy saving “green” measures that will reduce the environmental impact made by its residents, including solar and geothermal power sources and thermally efficient windows. The Fedigan renovation is just one of a number of environmentally-oriented programs currently being undertaken here at Villanova. Driscoll Hall and the soon-to-be completed Law School are both “green” certified, environmentally sustainable buildings. Villanova has declared this to be a “Year of Sustainability” and recently hosted an International Sustainability Conference with environmental radical Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a keynote speaker.

Besides the “Environmentally friendly” toilets in Good Counsel Hall that don’t flush, environmental efficiency and energy optimization are generally positive developments. The recent spike in oil prices showed how quickly energy costs can consume a large part of an institution’s budget, and reducing this vulnerability is even more necessary in such dire economic times.

That said, Good Counsel’s regurgitating toilets are a perfect example of the result when, in a desire to extol our commitment to sustainability, we sacrifice the quality of life for our students. One can only wonder if the money being spent building “green information kiosks” and solar thermal water heaters and hosting sustainability conferences might be better spent equipping another one of the main campus residence halls with air conditioning.

Regardless, a wave of “green” is certainly sweeping the nation. Last week’s Villanovan profiled a number of ways in which students can “go green”.

And it’s not just universities that are celebrating their new focus on sustainability. A visit to General Electric’s Web site yields headlines about GE’s efforts to upgrade our electric grid and conserve water supplies; Chevron’s web site proclaims its dedication to finding “newer, cleaner ways to power the world”.

Verizon has begun buying hybrid vehicles for its employees and Apple has begun selling what it claims to be the “world’s most energy-efficient desktop computer.”

It is important to realize that these new initiatives, from Villanova’s Sustainability Conference to Apple’s green computer, weren’t brought about by a government mandate or federal regulation. The “green revolution” began as a grassroots movement and has the potential to reduce our dependency on foreign energy sources and conserve vital natural resources. But what started as a grassroots movement is in danger of becoming a government-imposed intrusion that will hamper our economy and cost trillions.

The Obama administration seems intent on making “sustainability” synonymous with economic decline. With car companies already on taxpayer-funded life support, Obama supports raising the required fuel economy of automobiles, making unprofitable cars even more expensive and adding a nail to the coffin of America’s declining auto industry.

The centerpiece of Obama’s energy policy is the “cap and trade” system. This cap and trade scheme requires companies to buy the right to emit greenhouse gases from the government – an effective tax on the use of energy. Of course, these companies will simply pass the costs of this tax on to the consumer, and households will be stuck with a bill that could run as high as $1.9 trillion.

Obama himself admitted that “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket,” but the prospect of a struggling family forced to pay even more to heat their home doesn’t seem to sufficiently trouble Obama enough to compel him to rethink his support for an enormous tax hike that will hurt America’s working households the most.

“Going green” is the popular way to go in America today, but it is important that, as America transitions to a more energy-efficient economy, we don’t lose sight of the costs that “sustainability” will impose on American society. Institutions of all types and sizes should move towards sustainability, not just with urgency, but with thoughtfulness and consideration for its costs as well.


John Elizandro is a freshman business major from Radnor, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].