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Is Green Really the New Crimson?

By Hemi H. Gandhi

Climate change is the single biggest challenge that Harvard students will face in their lifetime. Recognizing this, thousands of students flocked to last year’s “Green is the New Crimson” rally under the allure of apple cider and the chance to listen to a speech by Al Gore ‘69.

Before Gore’s speech, University President Drew G. Faust had boldly announced a new plan to reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016. While the Office of Sustainability, the new Resource Efficiency Program, and the larger Harvard community enthusiastically declared their support to meet these sustainable goals, Harvard as a research university and educational institution has failed to establish a comprehensive initiative dedicated to tackling the climate crisis and developing renewable energy technology. If Harvard wants to emerge as a leading green research and policy hotspot, it must take bold steps to adapt to the clean energy revolution.

The lack of any such Harvard initiative is surprising, especially considering that, over the last few years, a general consensus among everyone from the line worker in Detroit to the silicon valley venture capitalist has been brewing in affirmation of the fact that renewable energy is the wave of the future. In his latest book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asserts that “Green is not simply a new form of generating electric power; it is a new form of generating national power.” The race to clean technology will determine who the next billionaires are and where the next economic and scientific boom will take place.

Furthermore, many top rated academic institutions, including Stanford, Princeton, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have already made considerable commitments to green research and education. MIT’s Energy Initiative, for example, is financially backed by mega-corporations like BP, Siemens, and Lockheed Martin. The program boasts over 70 energy-related courses and interdisciplinary research groups of engineers, economists, management gurus, and policy experts. With BP and Ford’s blessing, the explicit mission of Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative is to “lead the way to a compelling and sustainable solution of the carbon and climate problem.” With Harvard conspicuously absent from the race, these other schools are going all in with clean technology, betting that they will attract millions of dollars in research funding and will produce the Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg of renewable energy.

It is not just Harvard that has failed to act. Many profit-seeking and socially conscientious students who feel sheepish about being “greedy I-bankers” have yet to consider careers as “green capitalists.” This is clearly evidenced by the size of the Environmental Science and Public Policy concentration, which has approximately 50 students every year.

Even if more students wanted to create the most efficient bio-fuel or found the hippest solar startup, it would not excuse the fact that Harvard has no specially designed educational programs to prepare them. While Harvard should be commended for establishing Environmental Science and Public Policy, the concentration is narrowly aimed at training the world’s future environmental policy makers and researchers, not the newest batch of renewable energy inventors, entrepreneurs, economists, and lawyers.

Nevertheless, Harvard does already have an impressive array of environmental courses under the Center for the Environment and is introducing courses this year like the Science of Energy, along with a handful of freshman seminars that focus on sustainability. But Harvard still lacks a cohesive undergraduate program for students to pursue these interests. In sharp contrast, students at Princeton can obtain a certificate in Sustainable Energy, and, down the river, MIT offers a minor in Energy.

Clearly Harvard needs to play catch up in order to fulfill its obligation as a premier research university and the historic focus of great policy debates. The university must develop a cohesive interdisciplinary curriculum and possible concentration or secondary field that will adequately prepare students to be the clean energy leaders and green gurus of tomorrow. Students of all disciplines must seriously consider careers in sustainability and should actively work with the university to establish these new resources. Proper forums and mechanisms should be developed to bring faculty across the university together to engage in interdisciplinary research projects at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Harvard should be open to adopting successful ideas and even collaborating with schools like MIT and Princeton. Ultimately, the problems of climate change and energy are so far-reaching and possibly disastrous that the brainpower and expertise of all the world’s top schools must play a part. The world cannot afford for Harvard to be absent from the fight.

Hemi H. Gandhi, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Greenough Hall.

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