Gabriel Okolski: It’s not easy being green

The North Face apparel that so many on this campus seem to wear must be bored. Instead of climbing jagged rock faces in the Alaska wilderness or tearing down blankets of powder in the Wasatch mountains, these clothes are instead defending America’s upper middle class against the brutal D.C. winters.

To those of you who use such clothing to protect yourself from environments that are actually cold and not just unpleasant, I apologize. It is largely true, however, that such extreme apparel is more of a function of fashion than of actual utility on our campus.

I have put much thought into another style-versus-utility conundrum recently – the senior class gift. Originally, I was happy to hear that the class of 2007’s legacy would be partially carried on through a “green fund” to help support environmental initiatives on campus in the future. But after some thought, I’m afraid that this undertaking is merely another way for GW students to show their flair.

Walk around campus one day and just take a look at how many students rifle through plastic water bottles when they can re-use a plastic Nalgene-type container. Stroll into a laundry room and watch as one person uses three or four washing machines for his or her dirty clothes. Even worse, count the number of plastic food containers that go un-recycled in the basement of Ivory Tower and the number of discarded Styrofoam boxes that will never biodegrade.

I may be wrong, but at face value, we are not a campus that cares about mother Earth. Why, then, would the senior class choose to be remembered for its environmental service? Simple – the same reason that keeps us wearing those North Face jackets.

While global warming is a real issue, a newly inspired environmentalist spirit has become the latest fashionable social cause. Going green is now the “in” thing to do for those individuals who want to feel as if they are making a difference in the world.

This trend can be easily seen in the increased amount of recycled packaging for high-end consumer goods, a widespread proliferation of “all-natural” foods and the rise of the hybrid car.

The environmental pursuit is a noble one of which our planet is in bad need. We may be too old to be interested in the wisdom of a children’s television character, however Kermit the Frog’s words could not be more true – it’s not easy being green. If the senior class truly wants to make a difference for the environment, then throwing funds at this problem will just waste everyone’s time and money.

The environmental pseudo-craze has manifested itself in the form of the class of 2007’s gift to GW. For this donation to have any meaning specific to our class, however, students must change the way they think about environmental issues. It is ultimately a cultural shift that will challenge the class of 2007, not some sort of contest to see how much money seniors will raise.

If the graduating class provides plenty of money for green initiatives without a broader awareness for this cause, it is unlikely that the University would put it to good use. GW administrators have placed barely any emphasis on recycling programs, water and power conservation or other simple measures that could help make a difference. The only chance we have of ensuring that our funds will go further than just building a couple of parks on campus is to show University officials that we can talk the talk and walk the walk.

Before any seniors blindly give one cent to receive a free T-shirt or some other incentive to donate, they should start thinking about ways that they can truly take the senior gift to heart. I hate to sound preachy, but I think it would be completely ridiculous to have several hundred people give money to a cause that they have no stake in.

I saw a poster in Ivory Tower with some useful tips that all students can use to better the environment, such as ditching four plastic water bottles a day for a single Nalgene container and making sure not to leave the lights on. Also, on Friday, February 2, from 6 to 8 p.m., Senior Class Council will be holding “Green Fest” in Columbian Square that will have some great information about going green. These resources may be small steps, but they can help to start making a difference in the green culture on campus.

After all, this green initiative may challenge seniors to actually change their habits for the betterment of our planet. Perhaps it will even help curb global warming, so we can wear those North Face jackets we love so much for years to come.

– The writer, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in geoscience, is Hatchet opinions editor.

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