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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.

December 9, 2010 - 3:15pm

We've had a fair amount of snow in Backboro. Not an inordinate amount by any means (it is December, after all), but enough so that many of our students from warmer climes are going into shock. I heard one grad student, yesterday, complaining about how cold it was. When her companion responded that twenty above was by no means cold, I just chuckled to myself.

Anyway, I was walking on campus this morning, and had to avoid getting in front of a sidewalk snow removal device. A small skid-steer, with a rotating cylindrical broom on the front. It does a pretty good job of cleaning down to the concrete, not damaging the concrete, and leaving a surface unlikely to ice over (at least, not immediately). And one operator was cleaning a six-foot-wide sidewalk at a rate of probably twenty or twenty-five feet per minute. Pretty impressive, even though it does kick up a hell of a dust/dirt/snow-storm while it's in the area.

We certainly never had such a device on the campus where (and when) I was an undergrad. Truth be told, our sidewalks never got anywhere near as clean for the duration of the winter. We dealt with more slush, more ice, narrower passable walkways, and hardpack rather than concrete -- pretty much just as firm a surface, but not a lot of traction. While the grounds crews got out eventually, in ancient times it was likely that the students had already tramped down a path across the frozen quad. As a matter of fact, I remember coming back after one intersession to join a semi-organized "lets form a work crew and tramp down the paths where WE want them to be" party. (I think there may have been some beer involved, but my memory is hazy. Probably because of the beer.)

So the students worked harder, both to make the paths and in the course of using them. And the grounds crew worked harder (operating a shovel or scraper is more work than operating a skid-steer). But I don't recall there being a larger grounds crew, in proportion to the size of the campus or the student body. And the old way of doing things certainly burned less fossil fuel. And required less capital equipment. Which required less maintenance because it had fewer moving parts to break down or freeze up.

One corollary -- in ancient times, students wore sensible footwear during the winter. Some wore sneakers (for better traction on that hardpack). Some wore boots (either lace-up work boots or Wellingtons). Nobody wore fashion footwear. Not after early December. At least, not more than once. Some of the more urban(e) kids started out in fashion boots which may have been high enough in the shaft (up the leg), but were too high in the heel. Ankle-breakers, we used to call them.

Now, half of the female students (even the ones from the north-east) seem to wear what I consider fashion boots pretty much throughout the winter. The nice wide, clean concrete sidewalks make that possible. In fact, if Greenback were to go back to the old-fashioned way of dealing with snow on the sidewalks, I'd expect the subject of boots getting ruined would pop up fairly early in the protest.

How easily we get hooked on (arguably) excessive use of technology. And energy. And fossil fuel.


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