Our reliance on fossil fuels amplifies virtually every impact we exert on our environment. Yet fossil fuels have also helped to bring us the material affluence our society enjoys today. By exploiting the richly concentrated energy in coal, oil, and natural gas, we have been able to power the machinery of the industrial revolution, produce chemicals that boost crop yields, run vehicles and transportation networks, and manufacture and distribute countless consumer products. However, in extracting coal, oil, and natural gas, we are splurging on a one-time bonanza, because these fuels are nonrenewable and in finite supply.
Attempts to reach further for new fossil fuel sources all seem to threaten more impacts for relatively less fuel. The energy choices we make now will greatly influence the quality of our lives for the rest of the 21st century and beyond. As a college student, you can help to design and implement sustainable solutions on your own campus. Proponents of campus sustainability seek ways to help colleges and universities reduce their ecological footprints. Although we tend to think of colleges and universities as enlightened and progressive institutions that benefit society, they also are centers of lavish resource consumption.
Classrooms, offices, research labs, residence halls, dining halls, sports arenas, and vehicle fleets all consume resources and generate waste. Together the 4500 campuses in the United States spend $400 billion each year on products and services and generate about 2% of U.S. carbon emissions. Reducing the ecological footprint of a campus can be challenging, but students, faculty, staff, and administrators on thousands of campuses are working together to make the operations of educational institutions more sustainable.