Green is the new Crimson

Gore then recited a popular African proverb, If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The problem, Gore says, is that “we have to go far, quickly.”

Harvard University holds its first ever Sustainability Celebration with a keynote delivered by Nobel laureate and former Vice President Al Gore.

On a chilly Wednesday afternoon in Cambridge, thick clouds overhead threatened rain. In the heart of Harvard Yard, however, a buzz filled the air.

Banners throughout the Yard pronounced “Green is the new Crimson.” Students lined up to collect organic T-shirts and reusable water bottles. Harvard Catering served warm squash bisque and hot cider from local farms throughout Massachusetts.

Not to be outdone, John Harvard also dressed for the occasion, sporting a green robe and a thick green beard.

Thousands of students, staff and faculty filled 4,000 seats between Memorial Church and Widener Library. Despite the gloomy weather, the Harvard Sustainability Celebration boasted a tremendous showing.

It was almost an environmental coup of sorts at Harvard. Just the previous day, Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General spoke at the Kennedy School, calling global warming “the defining issue of our time.” Throughout October, sustainability events, panels, book signings, and lectures would bring the issue of sustainability to the forefront of the University’s agenda.

As President Faust took the lecture, she quickly stated that environmental issues represented a challenge as well as a “call to action.”

The event kicked off Harvard’s greenhouse gas reduction initiative, which aims to reduce Harvard emissions 30% by the year 2016, using 2006 as a baseline. This is a large task if you consider the fact that emissions at Harvard have historically grown at an average of 4% per year. Moreover, the greenhouse gas reduction takes into account new growth in the university, including the Allston Science Complex currently under construction across from HBS.

During her talk, President Faust stated, “each of us has an obligation to the future of our planet” and spoke of Harvard’s commitment to the issue of global warming.

In many ways, universities are better positioned to address environmental issues than the private or public sector. For one, universities can afford a longer-term view, something that has become increasingly difficult for businessmen and politicians. Second, universities can embrace a broad perspective – a perspective that encompasses various disciplines and approaches.

At Harvard, a newly established Office for Sustainability manages all of the “green” activities across disciplines and schools. This office will coordinate policy efforts at the Kennedy School, environmental-friendly designs at the Graduate School of Design and green-tech business ideas at the Business School.

At the end of her introduction, President Faust introduced Gore, who the Nobel laureate committee called, “probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding” of issues around global warming and environmental sustainability.

Al Gore, Harvard College Class of 1969, received a standing ovation even before he uttered a single word.

For those not in the know, Al Gore has accomplished much in the 39 years since he left Harvard. His bio includes several decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, two terms as Vice-President, a partnership at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (a top notch VC firm), a historic run for the U.S. presidency, etc.

Perhaps most notably, Gore accomplished the unfathomable triple crown in 2007: an Academy Award for An Inconvenient Truth, an Emmy for Current TV, and a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in environmental activism.

Where did all this insight and passion come from, anyhow?

You guessed it – Harvard! During his talk, Gore traced back his interest and passion for the environment to a Harvard professor he studied under named Roger Ravelle. Professor Ravelle is widely known as one of the first scientists to collect and measure data on atmospheric CO2.

Today, Gore is more devoted to issues of environmental sustainability than he has ever been. Gore spoke of Galileo’s “inconvenient truth” that the sun, not the earth, existed at the center of the universe. As a result, Galileo spent the last years of his life on house arrest, ostracized from society.

In the same way, we now face the “inconvenient truth” that an overdependence on carbon-based fuels threatens the environmental sustainability of our planet.

Further, Gore connected our environmental issues to other problems, namely declining foreign credibility, a burgeoning current account deficit, and a stagnant energy policy. The common theme, in Gore’s mind, is an overdependence on burning fossil fuels.

Gore stated that we must focus on a “devotion to the rule of reason,” which created the backdrop for Harvard’s founding in 1636. Gore says that we must not continue to twist “questions of fact” into “questions of power.”

Gore then recited a popular African proverb, If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The problem, Gore says, is that “we have to go far, quickly.”

Admittedly biased, Gore ended his talk with a less-than-obscure endorsement of the Democratic Party. In his mind, we have everything we need “with the possible exception of political will.” The bright side, Gore says, is that, “political will is a renewable resource.”

Tips for reducing your own footprint:
-Drive less.
-Turn off computers.
-Unplug chargers.
-Turn out the lights.
-Take shorter showers.
-Adjust the thermostat.
-Eat less meat.
-Wash clothes in cold water.
Ditch the plastic.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle
(e.g. the HARBUS after reading it).

November 3, 2008
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