Final examinations lurk, beginning Monday. Short term, the annual month of self-directed study, isn’t far behind.

Social lives screech to a stop. Pizza left at room temperature for six hours is a dietary staple. Next morning, the fly dotting a dormitory wall might witness a student dislodging his face from a world religion textbook, with no concrete evidence of when the all-nighter ended and sleep began.

Not exactly prime time for on-campus activism.

But to Wish and Bertrand, president and vice president of the Bates Environmental Coalition, adding one more meeting to the palm pilot planner or spending another hour gathering signatures in front of the dining hall is worth the sacrifice.

Those decisions are as unconscious as breathing, an activity their current cause seeks to make easier for the next generation of students on the Lewiston campus.

Bates participated in a National Day of Action on April 1. Leaders of more than 125 student groups nationwide rallied in promotion of renewable energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuel and nuclear energy.

Wish and Bertrand organized a panel discussion. Seventy students and faculty members attended a session that the duo and their closest faculty affiliate, environmental studies professor Camille Parrish, hope will usher in exclusive use of so-called “green” power at Bates.

Three other colleges and universities in the United States have made the switch to renewable energy. One is the University of Colorado. The other two are in Maine, including one of Bates’ friendly rivals, Colby College in Waterville.

Jason Reynolds, a student from Unity College, discussed his school’s recent move to green electricity at the panel.

Bertrand said she believes the change would be a no-brainer from a public relations perspective.

“Colby had front-page coverage in the Boston Globe when they went with renewable energy,” she said. “The last time Bates had front-page coverage in the Boston Globe, it was for a murder.”
Campus politics
So what’s holding up the works?

The students say school administration has given their lobbying a mixed reception. As of Thursday, they still were pursuing an audience with Bates President Elaine Hansen and had gathered more than 640 signatures petitioning her to sign a voluntary reduction agreement.

“That’s basically nothing more than a written obligation saying we’re going to do something,” Wish said.

And while the students say allowing greenhouse gas emissions to go unchecked will exact a long-term toll, the solution also costs. Based on last year’s figures, Wish says switching to a renewable energy provider, Maine Power Options, will run an additional $42,000 per year.

To compensate, the environmental coalition proposes a $23 annual tuition hike per student. Students would be given an opt-out clause by checking a box on their tuition bill.

Another possibility is increasing the price of a student parking permit by the same amount. Bertrand says that option challenges the environmentally unsound practice of using a vehicle to get around a cozy campus that doesn’t seem to require one.

Plus, while $42,000 might sound like a favorable annual household income throughout most of Maine, students make the case that it’s a relative drop in the bucket when discussing Bates’ spending.

“Talking about an extra $42,000 a year when the school’s energy budget is $1.5 million really isn’t that much of a difference,” Bertrand said.

Wish, who says an environment conference at Harvard stoked his fervor, hopes the panel effectively educated those who might think the suggestion is a costly step toward a small contribution to clean air.
They’re not alone
A broad brush might paint the push as a fringe cause.

That perception gains momentum with a visit to the National Day of Action site, www.fossilfools.com. There you’ll find an unflattering, open-mouthed pose of President George W. Bush next to a clown’s face, and cartoonish likenesses of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as dinosaurs frolicking in the shadow of a power plant.

Bertrand also concedes that some of the newspapers her group has distributed in recent weeks are peppered with “propaganda.”

But rank opposition at Bates, bastion of progressive thinking, isn’t readily apparent among the student body.

“I think most students can’t understand why the college wouldn’t want to do this,” said student Mark Morgenroth. “For the most part we’re a campus that has a lot of politically correct organizations. Recycling is big. You’d think this is something they’d want to do, especially since Colby is doing it.”

There are faculty allies, including Parrish, who conducted a combined energies audit that showed campus consumption far exceeded campus growth in the 1990s. Wish also acknowledges Peter Rogers, John Smedley and Rachel Austin.

“We’re part of a larger campaign across the country. We’re not alone in Maine. The political climate in the state is hospitable. The student body backs us. We have support on the faculty,” Wish said. “Administration is that missing piece.”

That, and perhaps a few more hours in the day.

Kalle Oakes is staff columnist. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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