- Lack of transparency in the decision making and failure to communicate with faculty members and students: my colleagues and I were completely taken aback upon arriving on campus yesterday to witness the trees torn down. Several of us serve on high level campus committees charged with overseeing the nationally recognized University Arboretum as well as the broader development of our campus (FACEL). Yet none of these committees were aware that all these trees were to be cut down - until after the fact. Had I heard about this plan earlier, I would have gladly helped devise a much better way to accomplish the goal. This action clearly represents a serious dysfunction in how our campus is governed even in such important matters, and such dysfunction needs to be addressed immediately given how demoralized our faculty already are these days.
- Lack of vision for true long-term sustainability: While the ostensible reason for yesterday’s deforestation is to increase parking spaces available to students, the manner in which this is being addressed shows a complete lack of vision or ecological foresight. I know that conventional approaches to construction and land development treat trees as just another physical element on the land to be disposed off at will, but is that really necessary? Was it really necessary to cut down a 100 trees (which fix carbon, provide shade, habitat, and psychological benefits, to name just a few) just to add 600 new parking spots? Did whoever make the decision to go this route on the masterplan consider any creative alternatives that would not require the killing of living, breathing, healthy, mature trees? I am sure my colleagues and I could have come up with alternative plans that would preserve the forested nature of our campus environment (recognized nationally in our Arboretum status) while meeting the needs of students. Were alternatives such as aggressively promoting carpooling, bicycling and other options even considered at all when deciding to cut down trees to make more room for cars? Even as our research on local urban ecology is beginning to attract wider attention, we appear to have failed utterly in bringing any ecological transformation to our own campus. I would love for our campus to serve as a model and a demonstration / experimentation ground for the design of more ecologically sensible landscaping and urban habitat design options for others to adopt. Alas, this appears to be a mere pipe dream as our campus rushes headlong down the unsustainable path. What kind of message are we really sending to our students and future generation of leaders by putting cars above trees, at a time when many people around the world are actively developing and implementing solutions to help us transition into the post-carbon age? Is our university even interested in being a leader in finding solutions to our environmental problems? Or are we content to remain a big part of the problem?
Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”