Thursday, February 05, 2009

Going Green on Campus

Last semester in one of my English classes we talked about performative theory. Performative theory is basically the idea that you're not born something, you just perform it. And by performing something well, you sort of become what you're pretending to be. And other people respond to that.

The big thing we discussed was gender. Judith Butler wrote all about this. Girls are not girls; they're just people who perform girl-ness by having curves, and by walking the way girls walk, and by talking and dressing and doing everything else the way girls do those things.

[I think that's kind of ridiculous because I'm religious and I absolutely believe that gender is part of who God intended us to be, and not just something that we arbitrarily perform, but I digress.]

This also works for other things. I've started running more. I perform "runner" by wearing runner clothes, having the runner stuff, going to run in the morning, etc.

My real reason for mentioning this, though, is that I think people and schools are obsessed with performing green-ness. And by doing all of the things that look green, people feel more modern and like they're doing more for the environment than maybe they actually are.

When I visited Harvard during fall break, they had banners that said "GREEN IS THE NEW CRIMSON". Having banners like that does not do anything for the environment, but it gave me the impression that their school is doing more to act green, which may or may not be true. This raised my opinion of the school (but seriously, who has a bad opinion of Harvard?) because they were doing something that our culture values right now.

The University of Utah is also making an effort to go green. I think it's kind of funny, though, because the efforts that I have seen are not things that make a big difference, I don't think, but they're things that make it seem like we are doing more. I can think of four examples, which include two silly (but kind of practical) things, and two examples of budget cuts that were transformed into initiatives to go green.

1. Our campus had bike lanes painted onto some of our walkways down the middle of campus. To someone visiting our campus, we would seem really modern, and like we really care about the environment. The bike lanes signal to people that we have enough people riding bicycles instead of driving that we actually needed bike lanes. To someone visiting, or not paying attention, it would seem like something that would promote order, and something really organized.

This is not actually the case. The bike lanes don't really go very many places, and bikes don't really use the lanes very much. Since they are not used all that much, people walk on them just like they did before the lanes were painted.

2. Our campus cafeteria thing, Chartwells, put out water cups that are made of corn. They look like plastic cups, but they are "corn cups" and they are compostable. Why not just paper? Paper is compostable too. If we take a corn cup, water is free. If we take a paper Coke-style cup, water costs 30 cents. I understand that it's a good idea to replace Styrofoam (in fact Styrofoam is one thing that I actually care about), but corn cups seem like they're more for show than actual concern about the environment. I don't actually know much about this, though, so I did a basic search online. Corn cups are $127 for a case of 1000, with a multiple case quantity discount. Coke cups are $87 for a case of 1200.

3. This semester, most of my classes did not provide syllabuses. They were posted online. A couple teachers told us it was because we're going green. But they still expected us to print them out ourselves. SRSLY? It's not saving paper if we still have to print it. And, not only that, even if we do lose 1/4 of our funding, I am paying enough tuition that I believe I am entitled to syllabuses in all of my classes. For 3 cents a page, just splurge. Please, just splurge. Or charge everyone a $1 copy fee that covers all of the syllabuses.

4. At work (on campus), the school is not supplying Kleenex anymore. Okay. That's fine. I seldom get sick. There was a sign up though, that said it was because of budget cuts and also an effort to go green. Huh? How does that help us go green? The sign also said that the full-time people would be buying it instead, and that part-timers were welcome to contribute if they wanted to. Seems to me that if we're still buying and using Kleenex it isn't actually going to do anything to help us go green. They would have to give us handkerchiefs if we were really going to stop using Kleenex. And is that even greener anyway? Because how much water/energy does it take to wash a handkerchief? I don't know. I laughed when I read the note, because it sounded like a joke. It wasn't.

I partly think I should really embrace this stuff, though, and get all excited about going green, too, and involved in having more bike lanes painted--so that when I'm applying for grad school it looks like I actually care. Schools like to think that people care about this stuff. Because if they admit students who care, and more of the student body cares, then the institution cares more. Right? (Ha. Ironically, this is a logical fallacy.)


Anonymous said...

I know this blog is a few months old, but I ran across it while searching to see if handkerchiefs were more "green" then kleenex. After i read your blog i wanted to address a few things. Primarily the paper issue. You had mentioned that it was cheaper to just use paper cups then corn cups. It most certainly is. Eco-unfriendly things usually are cheaper, IE. standard cotton clothing vs. organic cotton, organic foods vs. non-organic, i could go on. I personally applaud your schools choice to offer corn cups as an alternative to paper. Alot of people say whats the big deal with logging, the companies usually replant the forest so theres no loss. Not true. When a company clear cuts a region of forest, they are destroying a complex and diverse eco-system. When the replant trees there, they are creating what is called a mono-system, basically a eco-system without any genetic diversity, since they mainly plant 1 type of tree rather then the numerous species that exist naturally. When you create a mono-system, the entire system suffers, as there isn't a wide variety of genetic material. This is just one example. I'm not saying that some organizations don't go off the deep end when it comes to going green, but some of the practices that seems ridiculous, are actually very good.

Emily said...

Anon, that's interesting. Thanks for sharing. I don't really know much about mono-systems.