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Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Gulfstream

The Harriman and West Airport is a lovely spot, just minutes from campus. With a 4,000+ foot runway, it is perfect for the small jets that rich Ephs like to fly. Are any Ephs flying in for the week-end? It’s Convocation and the Trustees are meeting some trustees are in town. An enterprising Record reporter ought to go down to the airport and check.

Why? Recall the Trustees’ statement on sustainability.

WHEREAS, The President and Trustees of Williams College believe that the principles and practices of environmental sustainability in general, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions specifically, are institutional priorities,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

As recommended by the President’s Staff acting on the report of the Climate Action Committee, Williams College hereby adopts as a goal the reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions by ten percent below the College’s 1990-91 emissions level by the year 2020.

Love the WHEREAS and all the CAPITAL LETTERS! Makes the whole thing quite classy.

Now, the problem here is not so much that global warming is over hyped and that money spent reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be better spend elsewhere. The problem, as with the palatial offices in the new Stetson, is the hypocrisy from College officials. If Morty and the Trustees are going to insist that fighting global warming is an institutional priority then, at the very least, they need to act consistent with that belief when conducting College business.

Check out the the Trustees. Many are very, very rich. Do you really think that, say, Gregory Avis ’80 or William Oberndorf ’75 fly coach on commercial planes, that they come from California to Albany with at least one connecting flight inbetween? I’ll take the other side of that bet!

Now, being a fellow Eph in finance, I celebrate the wealth of Avis, Oberndorf and other successful graduates. The more rich Ephs, the better. Moreover, since this is a free country, they should be allowed to spend their money on whatever they like, including private jet travel. I know that I would! But don’t lecture me with a bunch of WHEREASES and THEREFORES on the scourge of carbon emissions while simultaneously flying a private jet to a trustee meeting.

[For the record, I have no information on the flying habits of any particular trustee. Maybe they all bicycle to the meetings! But I do know my fair share of very rich people. As a rule, they don’t fly coach to Albany.]

And where are my friends from the Thursday Night Group? Surely they would agree that private jet travel by trustees to a College function is the height of hypocrisy. Or have they been fooled on this one just as they were on the carbon impact of new construction? If so, Morty is even more clever than I thought!

UPDATE: Thanks for the clarification that the trustees do not have a formal meeting this week-end.

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Fly Me To Boca

Chilly day in Williamstown, with a low of 19 degrees. Much better to be in Boca Raton, Florida, sunny and 74 degrees. And, as luck would have it, Boca is just where the Executive Committee (EC) of the Society of Alumni is meeting this week-end.

Perhaps hypocrisy’s name is Boca, not Gulfstream.

I have few problems with folks, like the Williams administration and trustees, who make a big deal of global warming, carbon emissions and sustainability. Their holy trinities are for them to choose.

I have few problems with folks whose carbon emissions are not influenced by green shibboleths. If you want to fly all around the country or build a factory in China, then that’s your business. Although I could imagine scenarios in which externalities start to become important, the science seems too weak and the political possibilities too limited to worry about that just now. And, if it will make my friends at TNG happy, I am more than ready for massive carbon taxes as long as similarly-sized cuts are made elsewhere, thereby keeping federal revenue/spending at current levels.

My problem is with folks who do both, folks like the Williams administration. If you really believe that carbon emissions are a huge problem, then you should not be scheduling meetings in Boca that could just as easily take place in Williamstown. The hypocrisy is pathetic.

The arguments against this claim are like fish in my barrel. See below for the shooting.
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2020

The College is currently involved (big pdf) in a major planning process which focuses on the future to 2020.

President Schapiro has initiated a conversation with the multiple Williams constituencies to map out a vision for the College in 2020. While this process is just underway, we found his approach imaginative, timely, and inclusive. The senior management team and the trustees are comfortable using sophisticated models to predict evolving trends in higher education and these tools are used effectively to inform their planning. As the College moves forward
with this process over the next couple of years, it will develop plans to ensure that Williams is well placed to meet the challenges of 2020.

Nothing wrong with a little planning, although I have real doubts about what sorts of “sophisticated models” (read: Excel spreadsheets) are in use. But that’s not today’s rant.

I have heard that Morty and a large portion of the senior staff were just on (still on?) a boondoggle to England for some off-site discussion and planning relating to 2020. True? I have nothing against such trips, but don’t tell me that the College is really concerned about carbon emissions when it schedules meetings across the Atlantic that could happen just as well in Williamstown. Is it too late to buy some more offsets from Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm? Just asking. Related rants.

If I were a member of TNG, I would make a big deal of this sort of hypocrisy.

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Da Plane! Da Plane!

A comment in this thread reminds me that the trustees are in town for the week-end. I would wager that at least one of them flew to town in a private jet. See our previous discussion. Anyone driving by the airport should let us know what they see . . .

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Why Jets?

Below I try to explain why my friends at TNG (or ar least a sub-group of five or ten who find the topic interesting) should focus on the alleged use of private jets for trustee meetings. I provide this advice, not because I worry about global warming and/or think private jets are bad, but because I think that such a project would help TNG achieve its own goals.

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TNG Meeting

Our friends in the Thursday Night Group are meeting tonight, fittingly enough.

We’ve all heard of global warming, and we’ve heard a lot of leaders talk about solutions, but the real solutions are going to come from people like you and me. TNG makes significant changes in the college, the community and beyond that protect and improve the way of life for those already suffering from the climate crisis, and for all those yet to come.

We want to get to know you, to hear your ideas and opinions and your vision of a better world. Some of you are very knowledgeable about the climate, and we can all learn from you. Others are very new to this, and we will help you learn.

An unstable climate will affect the poor and disadvantaged more than the rich and privileged, and so we have a duty to act.

Ahh, but does TNG really believe that? Fellow EphBlogger Morgan Goodwin writes:

Accountability is one of those big, moral words that parents use. It means one is responsible for the effects of one’s actions. You have to be responsible. You can’t cut corners, you can’t get away with things and you can’t blame someone else for your mistakes or wrongs.

Too true. But what are some concrete actions that a group of Williams students might take to demonstrate the importance of accountability, to hold the leadership of Williams accountable for its actions? EphBlog is here to help!

1) Determine if any trustees fly private jets to College functions and then make a judgment about whether or not such behavior is consistent with the College’s goals on carbon emissions.

2) Force the College to provide estimates of the carbon impact of major construction projects. This would be easy for College officials to do. Stephanie Boyd could just call the general contractor on a project and ask for a (rough) estimate on carbon emissions. Turns out that, when the checks you are writing are for tens of millions of dollars, people will answer your questions. Any other College official would receive a similarly quick answer. Again, this does not mean that a project would change, must less stop. But the first step in accountability is knowing just what happened.

Morgan continues:

The depth and subtlety of our lack of accountability is not a detriment, but rather precisely the reason why we must confront it. By working accountability into our society and our lives, then we have made a fundamental and radical change. That is why fighting climate change is about even more than the future stability of global civilization. It is about fixing the world around us.

No better place to start than Williams. There is nothing wrong with some of TNG’s other projects, like more efficient light bulbs. But Morgan and his TNG friends need to keep in mind the issue of scale. One private jet trip by one trustee probably outweighs years of efforts on light bulbs. (Perhaps a knowledgeable reader could support or refute that claim with real data.)

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