Environmental Law Society Hosts Its First Summit on Campus Climate Neutrality

Skip Stiles, Executive Director of Wetlands Watch, during his presentation titled the “Impact of Sea Level Rise on Virginia’s Coastline.” Photo by Seth Doherty ’11.On April 3, the Law School hosted the Environmental Law Society's first Summit on Campus Climate Neutrality. The event, supported in part by a grant from the National Association of Environmental Law Societies, featured speakers and discussion panels that focused on mitigating the effects of climate change at the state, local, and campus levels. The goal was to provide information about climate neutrality, but the student group also viewed it as an opportunity to bring academic, governmental and activist minds together that all are interested in making the community more climate friendly, said Jessie Coulter '10, '08-'09 Vice President of the Environmental Law Society.

Speakers on the local level included Jodi Miller, the Williamsburg City Manager, and Libby Oliver, the manager of the Williamsburg Farmers Market. Attendees also heard updates from William & Mary's Student Environmental Action Coalition, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science's Green Team, and the Law School's Environmental Law Society.  Professor Dennis Taylor, along with Miller, talked about importing ideas from the city's recycling program into William & Mary's plans for the future. Skip Stiles, director of Wetland's Watch and a member of the Virginia Climate Commission, offered a statewide view of the importance of achieving climate neutrality.

 "Every generation has an issue that defines them, excites them and unites them," said Interim Dean and Chancellor Professor of Law Lynda Butler as she opened the event. Butler and Taylor co-chair the College of William & Mary's campus-wide Committee on Sustainability. "Climate change may well be the issue that defines today's college students and young adults. If they are successful in their efforts to change the world, we will all owe them our undying gratitude."

The time for change is now- and it's no longer a secret. "Unless we begin to do something today my grandchildren are going to be dealing with the choices I made today,"  said Skip Stiles, as he spoke on the impact of rising sea levels on Virginia's coastline. "This is the defining issue of our generation. Your generation will be facing the consequences of the choices my generation has made - first with ignorance, and then with a little bit of knowledge."

What's missing is the political money and will to make that change happen, especially in Virginia. "Legislators refer to our state as the 'Saudi Arabia of coal,'" said Stiles as he described the extensive coal industry in the state. "You have to pay attention to the coal country and the united mine workers in order to get elected." As a result, few politicians are willing to take the necessary steps for real environmental change. 'There's a lot of money to be made moving coal around, and getting to a carbon neutral status in Virginia is going to take a whole lot of work," he said.

In the face of political opposition, Stiles and local activists continue to advocate for change. From buying local to having L.E.E.D certified buildings on campus, every small step adds up. Seeing such political apathy, citizens must hold their leaders accountable. "We are living in a cheap energy bubble, and it's going to burst," he said. "People need to write to the governor to say, 'what are you going to do about this?'"

"It's important to build and maintain momentum for action on climate change," said Coulter. "It's easy to think that recycling a can and turning off a light are enough. Those actions are great, but they have to be part of a comprehensive effort to change the way we live. That's why events like this are so important. They keep climate neutrality in the public eye."