Last year, UCSB students and administrators alike gave the entire campus an elaborate sob story that portrayed the University of California as an obese, chain-smoking “Captain Planet” Eco-Villain who bathes in oil and turns a blind eye to our world’s growing environmental problems. They claimed the University and our own campus in general was failing to secure enough funds for “greener” programs and that we, the student “planeteers,” could save the world with the powers of our wallets combined to form The Green Initiative Fund – a program which doles student dollars to energy education and energy efficiency proposals. What they failed to mention, however, is that our campus actually devotes a great deal of funds to environmental programs – far more than the measly $2.67 per student a quarter we have decided to give them each year from a $4 lock-in fee.
Organizers failed to mention that UCSB has secured over $4.4 million in grants and rebates for conservation programs since 2003 as stated in the 2006 UCSB Energy Report. They failed to mention that our university environmental experts are actually pretty smart and have saved us about $900,00 per year since 2005 by switching electrical energy programs, and they failed to mention that electric energy usage per square foot has been reduced by 30 percent since 1998 and that natural gas usage has been reduced by 23 percent since 1999.
Instead, these activists made the bogus claim that the university is not committed enough to saving the environment and that somehow our already tight student pocketbooks were necessary for effecting change. Important information was curiously absent amid the swarm of TGIF shirts and posters that floated around campus last spring, and TGIF proponents like Campus Sustainability Coordinator Katie Maynard made exaggerations such as, “These steps will help prevent future increases in tuition, and help lessen the environmental impact of the university. Funding is one of the biggest barriers that we are up against right now” (“TGIF To Bring New Energy to Sustainable Appliances,” Daily Nexus, Feb. 16, 2006).
Interestingly enough, a different story emerged yesterday during a phone interview with Campus Sustainability Coordinator Perrin Pelligrin. When asked if previous energy efficient programs often encountered obstacles toward funding, Pellegrin said her requests were “for the most part, successful.” To her credit, she did say TGIF was necessary in order to fund programs that the university would otherwise ignore… such as a $150,000 proposal to implement LCD touch-screens around campus that allows students to observe in “real-time” how much energy each building is using. Apparently fliers and posters are not effective these days.
True, as UCSB Energy Manager Jim Dewey reports, the price of natural gas has nearly tripled since 1997 and the price of electricity nearly doubled in 2005 when it was compared to the average price of electricity between fiscal years 1996 and 2001. However, other factors have contributed to dramatic increases in energy costs at UCSB. In particular, the construction of new facilities such as the Engineering Science Building alone increased the use of natural gas by a cost of $113,000 last year. Thus our own campus’ expansion is partly to blame for the increase in spending. Ironically, in Dewey’s report, he mentions that the UCSB energy program has “saved over $36.6 million in electrical costs since fiscal year 1997. This is enough money to build a new academic building!” Yes, a new academic building which will dramatically increase our energy spending.
Administrative committee member Donna Carpenter said TGIF is important because it forces the UC and the state to pay attention and fund more conservation programs, but evidently they don’t need to be told twice. Currently, UC Berkeley is attempting to imitate our campus and vote on a similar initiative this spring. Perhaps they would benefit from knowing that our campus’ TGIF will only begin to hear proposals this month and that its own chairs seem unsure on how to fund as Maynard said university-funded programs will not receive additional grants, while TGIF Grants Making Committee chair Nina Salvador said she would consider a proposal for more solar panels in Rec Cen II – a program that has already secured 940 panels with the help of a different student lock-in fee. When it comes to securing more funding, students should never be used as pawns. Making the campus “greener,” is indeed a noble cause, planeteers, but omitting the facts still hurts us all.