Profs. Nicolas Howe and John Kleiner on the Controversial Subject of Carbon Offsets

Professors Nicolas Howe and John Kleiner, both part of the Campus Environmental Advocacy Committee, gave an informative log lunch talk about carbon offsets and what the College is doing to decrease them.

Though both professors definitely slipped in hints of their personal opinions on the topic, they also conveyed essential information on the moves the College is making to decrease its carbon footprint. The administration’s historic lack of transparency on complicated issues like this makes the talk that much more interesting.

Though the Board of Trustees voted against divestment from fossil fuels, they set a goal to minimize carbon emissions by 25% by 2050. They are making moves to do this in two ways. The first is recent news: the College and four other New England liberal arts colleges are creating a solar power facility in Maine that will produce 46,000 megawatt-hours of energy, meeting 40% of our energy needs.

(from left) Professor John Kleiner and Professor Nicolas Howe

The second move is the purchase carbon offsets, which brings up a lot of tricky ethical and technical questions. Should the College purchase local or nonlocal offsets? “Local offsets can be expensive,” said Prof. Howe, “some might even call it parochial–or narcissistic.”

Prof. Kleiner called our attention to the examples of other colleges, who have advertised themselves as purchasing carbon offsets when they are really protecting forested land that was never going to be disturbed anyway.

“CO2 is still going up into the air!” proclaimed Prof. Kleiner, stressing the shortsightedness of the Board’s proposed solutions. “Offsets are not the future. The College’s goals aren’t feasible–they force us into premature, potentially hazardous situations.”

I tend to agree.

—Jane Tekin, ’19