Building Green Campuses for the Seventh Generation

Nov 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 17-2: Sustainability, Editor's Essay
By Marjane Ambler

WIND TURBINESAs we go to press, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have blasted us out of our complacency about energy prices and the value of clean water. People paid exorbitant prices for a bottle of drinking water, a flushable toilet, and a shower. Because of fuel prices here in southwest Colorado, the school district is considering going to a 4-day school week.

The hurricanes intensified the national discussion of energy. However, most of the discussion is focusing upon short-term solutions, such as investigating price gouging, rather than the real problem: The planet has limited supplies of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), and we are running out.

This issue features tribal colleges that are taking a longer view. The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy requires leaders to consider the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation, their great, great, great, great, great grandchildren.

On the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, the Indian people and their neighbors benefit today from the foresight of Chief Oshkosh who, more than five generations ago, said, “There must be a way to harvest timber without cutting it all down.”

Today, the reservation boundary can be seen in satellite images; there are trees inside the boundary and none outside. Their long tradition of sustainable forestry won attention worldwide and inspired the College of Menominee Nation to create a Sustainable Development Institute. Mayan people from Belize traveled to Wisconsin to learn from the Menominee.

Two of the campuses described in this issue are creating islands of energy and water sustainability. Located in the dry American Southwest, the Lifelong Learning Center at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA, Santa Fe, NM) will be up to 40% more water efficient and 60-65% more energy efficient than the original campus buildings and conventional buildings in Santa Fe.

Ten miles from the Canadian border in North Dakota, the temperatures can drop well below zero in the winter and rise into the 100s in the summer. To keep students and staff comfortable with these extremes, Turtle Mountain Community College (TMCC, Belcourt, ND) installed geothermal heat pumps to heat and cool its new campus, thus reducing the energy needs by 40%.

When TMCC installs its wind turbine, it will be energy independent and in fact selling power to the local utility. Several other tribal colleges described in this issue have reduced their water use and have utilized wind, photovoltaic, and geothermal heat pumps to augment their energy.

Back in the 1970s, some of us expected to see such innovations across the country, the norm rather than the exception. OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries) imposed an embargo in 1973, limiting the oil sold to Western countries. Then in 1979, another crisis occurred in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.

Long gas lines spurred the United States and other Western countries to focus upon alternative energy and conservation. People started buying smaller cars. Businesses, schools, and individuals turned down the thermostats and turned up their interest in conservation and alternative energy.

The crisis passed, and the interest dimmed. However, high energy costs continued to plague many rural areas, such as the reservations served by many of our tribal colleges. American Indians “pay the highest rates for fuel and electricity and have the highest percentage of unelectrified and unweatherized houses,” according to the Native American Renewable Energy Education Project at the University of California at Berkeley.

American Indian people remember a time when they sustained themselves without fossil fuels. Their homes utilized the heat of the sun and the moderating temperatures of the earth. So some tribes began researching alternatives.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.