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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

An announcement and an accounting
March 25, 2008 - 11:12pm

First the announcement: the RSS feed is fixed. Those of you who aren't into RSS don't care, but some of the rest may find their life now easier (or at least more automatic).

Now the accounting:

The Chronicle has published a searchable database of this year's Congressional earmarks to colleges and universities. Their accompanying article speaks of 2300+
projects, 920 institutions, and $2.25 billion.

On one hand, I'm outraged that my tax dollars are being spent via a process with little transparency and less in the way of checks, balances, or quality control. On another hand (too many hands, here), I'm happy to see money going to institutions of higher education, no matter what the process. My third hand thinks something along the lines of earmarks being a good way to fund scientific research when you're dealing with an administration which is -- at very best -- indifferent to fact-based realities. And my fourth hand (which is probably my left foot?) is concerned that not enough of the earmarked money is going to sustainability-related projects.

You see, of that $2.25 billion, less than $60 million -- less than 3 percent -- is for the 61 projects which have the words "sustainability," "sustainable," "renewable," or "climate" in their titles. Representatives and Senators have a lot of leeway in picking projects to fund, and generally location is more politically important than academic subject area (although some subject areas may hold too much political risk to be attractive). So why less than 3% for sustainability projects? We've got a bet-the-farm class problem at our door, and we're dedicating nickels and dimes toward addressing it -- including both basic research and lots of technology application projects -- even when no one's looking closely.

I have to believe that the fault lies not in our (elected) stars, but in our selves. Are we being too high-minded? Are we trying not only to do the right thing, but to do it (perhaps too much) in the right way? Are we being too picky about how the public funds research? Or are we just not good at playing the political game? (If so, we need to get good at
it, and fast!)

For comparison, some 545 different projects, worth maybe $1 billion or more, are labeled as defense-related earmarks. Is it rational to think that 9 times as many projects, and 16 times as much money, is needed to respond to military threats as compared to ecological and climate-related social threats? I doubt it.



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