Climate Matters: Celebrating Sustainability, Refining a Mission

Story posted April 12, 2009

Bowdoin's Climate Days, held April 9-10, 2009, brought attention to various aspects of sustainability and what can be done to solve the issues surrounding it.

Climate Fair

The atmosphere was one of vitality and optimism at the Climate Fair, held Thursday, April 9, in Morrell Lounge, David Saul Smith Union.


Climate Days video produced by Zac Skipp '11

The fair showcased student, faculty and staff work around the issue of sustainability, and community organizations were on hand to provide additional information and resources about climate change.

Facilities Management's table featuring information about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the Town of Brunswick's Climate Action Plan and the Bookstore's textbook cycle display were part of the sustainability message that filled the room.

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The Climate Fair at Morrell Lounge, David Saul Smith Union.

Maryellen Hearn '11 manned a table for student EcoReps, the sustainability ambassadors in each of the first-year residence halls, who help students cultivate environmentally conscious habits early on in their college careers.

In between handing out compact fluorescent light bulbs and explaining to those who stopped how they can become an EcoRep, Hearn said it was important to be part of Climate Days as a way to have an impact on her immediate environment.

"We are taught in classes about all these huge issues that range really far across the globe, and it can be really difficult to feel like you can make anything happen," says Hearn.

"But when you're working with your community, then I feel like there's a lot more. You can see the impact you're having a little bit better."

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Associate Professor and Physics Department Chair Madeleine Msall demonstrates a model car that combines hydrogen and photovoltaic fuel cell technology.

Associate Professor and Physics Department Chair Madeleine Msall found herself delivering mini-lectures in her corner of Morrell Lounge, where tiny patterns swirled within the purple water of a small ocean dynamic simulator.

Msall pointed out that physics is one of many disciplines that aren't always talked about in discussions about sustainability.

"When students are looking at their choices, they see physics as some sort of technical thing that doesn't necessarily connect with the problems," says Msall.

"Every discipline around campus has this sort of shield around it, where people aren't really saying, 'This is an important problem; how are we connecting to it?' so I think as much information as we can give people about how all of us are working on things related to climate — the better job we're doing as educators.

Climate Matters Contest

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Students study the five winning Climate Matters contest proposals and cast ballots for the People's Choice Award in Thorne Hall during the Locavore Dinner.

A contest to solicit ideas for reducing the college's greenhouse gas emissions in order to move the College toward carbon neutrality yielded 46 entries.

While the College may or may not implement the actions described in these proposals, the hope is that they will encourage further discussion and creative thought, and enliven the ongoing deliberations about how best to prepare Bowdoin's Climate Action Plan.

The Climate Commitment Advisory Committee (CCAC) selected the top five proposals, which were displayed at the Locavore Dinner and at the reception following Common Hour.

  • Colin Joyner, Head Coach, Men's Tennis: "Leading the Way in Renewable Energy" — With the newly acquired Brunswick Naval Air Station land, develop an organic garden and a wind turbine and solar power field; also retrofit fitness center equipment to be energy producing to power the Fitness Center.


  • Brett Gorman '11: "Up On The Roof" — Bowdoin's 118 buildings are systematically examined by a qualified team to determine suitability for a solar energy system and/or a green roof system, which consists of placing soil, vapor protection/insulation, and drainage on the roof, then planting vegetation, which insulates the building, improves surrounding air quality, lowers temperatures surrounding the building during summer months, reduces storm-runoff and provides sound insulation.

  • Paul Schaffner, associate professor of psychology: "Consolidated Fall Break Program" — Move fall break from its current location (mid-October), to Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. This change gives everyone a full week off in November, opens up a weekend in October for on-campus activities and events, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions by considerably reducing student travel to and from campus.

  • Mike Woodruff, director of the Bowdoin Outing Club and Schwarz Outdoor Leadership Center: "Bowdoin Organic Farming Initiative" — Develop an organic farm incorporating the current Bowdoin Organic Garden. Possible sites include land trust property currently utilized by the Bowdoin Organic Garden, the Thalheimer property on Orr's Island (formerly a farm), and land currently on Naval Air Station Brunswick.

  • Jonas Crimm '10: "Ending Bowdoin's Car Culture" — The proposal aims to decrease the number of student vehicles on campus, as well as the miles these vehicles are driven throughout the academic year, by limiting student parking and increasing the cost of bringing vehicles to campus, resulting in a reduction in the Bowdoin community's emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants.

The People's Choice Award was given to Gorman's "Up on the Roof" proposal; the CCAC's award went to Woodruff's "Bowdoin Organic Farming Initiative."

Both awards were announced at the conclusion of Common Hour on Friday, April 10.

"Locavore" Dinner

Roasted Maine root vegetables from Goranson's Farm in Dresden, oven roasted Maine potato wedges from the Belanger Farm in Lisbon and Backyard Beauty tomatoes from Madison — just some of the items on the menu at the "Locavore" Dinner hosted by Dining Service, which buys 24 percent of its food from Maine suppliers.

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The Locavore Dinner menu included dishes such as Gulf of Maine shrimp cakes and Maine Cassoulet with Great Northern white beans from the Beanery, in Exeter, Maine.

Students perused oversized posters depicting the five winning entries in the Climate Matters contest, inspiring discussion at tables, each of which was hosted by a student leader who helped lead group discussions on the College's Climate Action Plan and sustainability efforts on campus.

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Table talk during the Locavore Dinner included discussion of the Climate Matters contest proposals.

At Birgitta Polson's table, talk circled around the feasibility of installing solar panels on campus rooftops, as proposed by Brett Gorman '11, one of the Climate Matters contest winners.

"I just think it's cool that so many people are participating from so many different areas of campus," says Polson.

"I think a lot of students might just think that the only people who are involved are in the Environmental Studies Department. This is a way for people to come out of the woodwork and say, 'Oh, cool, they did a project on this, and this addressed issues of sustainability in this specific way.'"

Common Hour with Majora Carter

"We're at a changed moment in our time and, I think, in our history," said President Mills in his introduction of Common Hour speaker Majora Carter.

"We have a new administration leading our country, with a new recognition that issues relating to climate change are not issues up for debate, but issues up for solutions."

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Majora Carter

Carter, an environmental advocate whose talk, "Green Jobs and the Green Economy," was sponsored by the CCAC, spoke about the environment's impact on society, including issues such as poverty, and her own efforts to improve the quality of life in environmentally challenged communities.

"Environmental justice does tie each and every one of us together," says Carter.

"We have the opportunity to build monuments to hope and possibility."

Environmental Mission Statement

At the conclusion of Carter's talk, President Mills announced the revision of the College's Environmental Mission Statement, still in draft form.

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Reception in Drake Lobby following Common Hour featuring posters of the winning Climate Matters contest entries.

In a departure from the existing statement, which takes a more nuts-and-bolts approach in prescribing the practices of recycling and buying reusable products whenever possible, the proposed statement takes a more global view.

The draft takes the stance that the question no longer is "What is global warming?" but "What are we going to do about it?"

Excerpt from the Environmental Mission Statement draft:

Although study and deliberation must continue, our accumulated knowledge about the effects of climate change demands the identification and implementation of effective solutions that will protect the environment while advancing economic development and security here and abroad.

The document states that such solutions arise from the College's obligation to challenge its students and faculty to examine, discuss and debate issues of ecological preservation, social justice, economic viability and global responsibility — to essentially turn out well-educated young people who will go out into the world and make a difference in the way that world is sustained.

As educators, scholars and citizens long dedicated to the common good and privileged to "count Nature a familiar acquaintance," we, the members of the Bowdoin community, pledge ourselves and our efforts to this cause and to a just and sustainable future.

The statement says the College will continue to reduce waste and pollution through conservation, recycling and other sustainability practices, and continue to include the investigation and implementation of new technologies and methods aimed at reducing Bowdoin's impact on the environment. It goes on to say that Bowdoin will also maintain its leadership role in the community by applying research and volunteer effort toward indentifying and helping to solve the environmental challenges of Brunswick and Maine.

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