April 24, 2007

Former Gov. Discusses Environment

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Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former governor of New Jersey, gave a lecture last night entitled, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy: Finding the Green in Being Green,” in the Statler Auditorium.
Whitman spoke to approximately 200 students, professors and members of the Ithaca community about the importance of awareness, activism and strong leadership in facing pressing environmental issues.
Opening her talk with praise for Cornell’s environmental efforts, Whitman said, “You are doing an outstanding job at improving your environmental commitment across the board, from the solar decathlon, to the light canopy.”
The Solar Decathlon to which Whitman referred is an international competition in which teams from universities around the world construct energy efficient, commercially-feasible solar-powered homes. In 2005, the Cornell University team placed second in the competition of eight teams.
The light canopy is an invention created by the Cornell solar decathlon team to allow anyone to produce cheap and efficient solar energy safely
Though Cornell has served as a model of environmental awareness and “responsible environmental stewardship,” Whitman said that, “Leaders: university leaders, business leaders and especially government leaders, must understand that wise environmental stewardship should always be a part of their jobs.”
“One of the best decisions a leader can make these days is to align their business with sound environmental practices,” Whitman said.
Whitman also explained that “environmental stewardship” is easier than it sounds, as “protecting our environment and ensuring economic growth in this country is not a zero sum gain, it is not an either/or phenomenon. Leaders in the business and environmental community have seen that responsible environmental stewardship can reap benefits for all.”
According to Whitman, the most pressing environmental issue, and one that needs to be addressed by such leaders, is climate change.
“Climate change is no longer the focus of extreme leaders and the former vice president of the U.S. … but it has now become the cause of everyone. I’m delighted, for once, to see the American people take on an environmental issue,” Whitman said.
Pointing to her former role as administrator of the EPA, Whitman discussed programs such as the Energy Star program, which awards energy efficient products an “Energy Star,” indicating to consumers that these products are better for the environment.
“Last year, use of Energy Star products reduced greenhouse gas emissions to the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road,” Whitman said.
Whitman also explained that many brands of electronics used by college students, such as laptops, cell phones and ipod chargers have received the Energy Star and she encouraged her audience to consider purchasing such products.
As part of her call for effective and active leadership on environmental issues, Whitman questioned whether enough was being done by the Bush administration to affect climate change.
However, Whitman remains hopeful. “I do think that within the next five years, not during this administration, but the next one, that we will see government caps placed on gas emissions,” she said.
To best reduce gas emissions in the future, Whitman was optimistic about the use of nuclear energy. Whitman encouraged the audience to not be afraid of the possibility of nuclear energy, rather, to embrace it as a more environmentally sound option for the future. “We need to take a hard look at nuclear energy, and have an honest discussion about it,” she said.
Some students found Whitman’s discussion informative and important to current environmental issues.
“I thought that she was a great speaker, and that she was very interesting. I’m glad I came,” said Youmna Sakr ’09.
“I’m concerned about the environment and interested in sustainability, and I thought she brought up a lot of topics that I hadn’t thought of, like nuclear energy. It was interesting to hear her perspective on that and learn more about nuclear energy as a possibility for the future,” Sakr said.