Colorado State University is partnering with Front Range Community College to build a steam turbine, which burns fossil fuels to boil water to produce steam to make the turbine engine go to yield electricity. The purpose of the machine is for students to study how a power grid works, and the turbine will produce enough electricity to power three to five houses at maximum capacity.
On the one hand, having practical, empirical knowledge and experience is always good, and it saves a day trip to a real power plant somewhere, meaning the University is spending less money in the long run and definitely spending less time. Also, it fosters a spirit of goodwill and collaboration between the University and the community college, and thus, strengthens the ties between CSU and Fort Collins (always a good thing in case one of us students decides to do something obnoxious and make headlines).
On the other hand, this is a steam-powered turbine, and not a geothermal or solar one, and it relies on coal and/or natural gas to keep going. We pride ourselves on being a green campus. We turn about 95,000 pounds of wasted food into compost, which we use in our greenhouses, which grow many of the fruits and vegetables that wind up on our plates, which leads back to the pulper and the composter, etc. ad nauseam. We have a contest every spring to see which Residence Hall can produce the most recycling. We investigate the use of alternative sources of fuel, and there are recycling bins in every hallway, classroom and dorm room (friendly reminder: please toss this paper in there when you’ve finished reading this article, the other opinion column, the comics, your horoscope, the Strip Club, and/or today’s Sudoku and crosswords. Thank you very much). So why are we relying on a steam turbine and not a solar one?
Obviously, this turbine cannot be powered by geothermal energy; we’re in the wrong part of the state for that. But still, we’re planning on contributing to the pre-existing tremendous strain on fossil fuels by building a steam turbine instead of a solar one. Why are we doing that when we advertise our eco-friendly status? It’s like the University is saying, “We’re saving the planet by doing these things, so let’s take a break with this since it won’t change anything.” That is precisely the wrong attitude. It still contributes to the problem of global warming and the modern over-reliance on traditional fuels. It’s not like we’re doing so good a job that we can afford to slack off. We have to stay as eco-friendly as we possibly can, trying to shrink our carbon footprint.
This idea is not just prevalent on campus, but in American culture. We all grew up with preachy animated specials speaking out against pollution and global warming (their hearts were in the right place, but they focused on the moral to the detriment of the character development and storytelling). We were taught to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, that deforestation was bad, that whales needed saving, and that, generally, human beings are morally inferior to nature because we try to conquer it instead of living in harmony with it. We toss our empty water bottles and used newspapers (like this one) into recycling bins without a second thought, we use reclaimed materials, we drive hybrid cars, and Fort Collins is a town friendly to bicycles and public transportation. It is having a positive effect on the environment, but we’re under the impression that it’s enough; it’s not. We need to do more. We need to rely more on solar energy, or, in places like Ouray, geothermal.
In a hundred years, I predict the rooftops of every skyscraper in most American cities will be lush little squares of green, taking in carbon dioxide from cars, buses, and subways, and turning it into oxygen while producing beautiful flowers, fruits, and vegetables. This will not be a purely aesthetic choice, though architects will be paid handsomely to ensure that they’re beautiful, but it will be a necessary one, because we won’t be able to survive otherwise. Our current way of life is unsustainable, our carbon footprints are much too large, and we need to find a way to survive, which means that the first step is moving away from fossil fuels, and moving towards alternative sources of energy. The best way for us on campus not to contribute would be to keep the turbine, but change the energy source.
Allison Chase is a junior Creative Writing major. Letters, feedback, and the inevitable hate mail can be sent to email@example.com.
A steam turbine may sound like a good idea, but there are other alternatives to explore.
A solar or geothermal turbine wouldn’t demolish our carbon footprint.
We pride ourselves on being a green university, let’s not ignore that.