Ashe takes action against UNC system’s environmental policies

by Alex Milstein – amilstei@unca.edu – Staff Writer

Environmental group Active Students for a Healthy Environment aims to fight the UNC school system’s fossil fuel endowments as the battle for energy conservation continues.

“We are one of the oldest environmental organizations on campus,” said Amber Williams, president of ASHE.

Williams said the original goals of ASHE were very broad.

Photo by Jorja Smith. Junior Melissa Wagner takes the initiative to be green on campus.
Photo by Jorja Smith. Junior Melissa Wagner takes the initiative to be green on campus.

Williams said UNC Asheville is not making progress toward sustainability.

“We want to focus mainly on evaluating and being proud of what our university is doing as far as sustainability goes. But we also need to take it a step further and think where we are lagging, and where we are ignoring facts as far as progress goes. This semester we found a true representation of that.”

Williams said one of the major concerns with energy starts in our own school system.

“We have recently found that our school’s endowment is putting tons and tons of their money into the fossil fuel industry, as are the endowments for the whole UNC school system. Our school endowment is directly tied to the UNC school system’s endowments. Endowments are a very blurry topic because schools are legally allowed to not expose anything about it. The way it works is that you basically pull money into one place, then take it and invest it in different areas. So if you lead on where you’re investing, it’s kind of like exposing the secrets of how you are making money.”

A forthcoming petition from ASHE objects the endowments of fossil fuel companies in the UNC school system.

“We hope to send this petition out to the entire UNC school system so that they will stop investing in fossil fuels,” Williams said.

David Gillette, an assistant professor of environmental studies at UNCA, said energy conservation is important on a college campus.

“College is a time when a lot of students start making habits that stick with them for the rest of their lives,” Gillette said. “This is important because we are preparing students to be out in the world, and we don’t exactly know what the world is going to be like 20 years from now. I think conserving energy is going to be a big part of it though. We really need to find out a way to reduce the impact we have on the world.”

Gillette said he is optimistic of the future of energy conservation and awareness.

“It’s easy to look at our world now and think that, with the way things are going, we aren’t making much progress. But when we think of it on a larger scale, there have been bigger problems that have been around longer, and the EPA has only been around for 40 years or so. In just those 40 years, we have come really far. We have reduced our carbon footprint in the States this year from last year, largely because we switched to natural gas from coal, yet fossil fuels still make up a large part of the problem,” Gillette said.

Despite increased environmental awareness in recent years, Gillette said people are not prepared for the future.

“I have no doubt that our energy landscape is going to look a lot different in 10 years than it does now, but I think it will have to be driven environmentally by climate change. When people start realizing that, it will give people a reality check and start the push towards energy conservation.”

Caroline Canter, a UNCA junior environmental studies student, said student organizations should do more to make issues known.

“We do a good amount on campus pertaining to energy conservation in the dorms, but it is hard to get it to kids off campus,” Canter said. “Especially if you’re not an environmental studies major, you probably don’t know much about energy conservation in the first place.”

Canter said student organizations can help raise environmental awareness.

“We have a bunch of really good clubs on campus, but a lot of the students just don’t know they are there because they do not put themselves out there. The petition ASHE is putting together sounds cool, but I haven’t heard anything about it. Clubs at UNCA need to get out there and makes themselves know.”

Canter said environmental awareness is important on college campuses.

“I think energy conservation is more important on college campuses than anywhere else because these kids are the potential future. If we identify environmental issues on a college campus today, there will be more real change in the future,” Canter said.

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