Students should pay for extra carbon use

It was a bright, sunny and unusually warm fall day (thanks, global warming), when I sat down for lunch and committed my meal to coming up with some solutions to how students can become more carbon neutral around campus. A goal of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is that campuses will become carbon neutral within 10 years of signing the pledge. Already there is a Purple Bike Program, and free rides for students on public buses and trains, so I was looking for something that would aid students who lived too far to ride a bike and weren’t near a bus route. It was about halfway through my tasty hummus and cucumber sandwich when it hit me. A standard $30 fee per parking pass would buy faculty and students one square ton of carbon offsetting per car for a whole year. Students would also be able to purchase additional credits if they so decided, yet would not be required to buy anything beyond the $30 minimum.

Now what the heck is it? A carbon credit is an amount of money used to aid either Clean Development Mechanisms (investments, establishments and/or construction used for emissions reduction projects in developing countries) or Verified Emissions Reductions (investments in projects to develop new, cleaner technologies, greater energy efficiencies and reductions of technological environmental impacts). After searching around the Internet for a while, the average price for carbon credit is around $30 per square ton, yet has a great deal of variability because of the market one utilizes.

While complaints have already been filed toward the carbon purchase on the basis that everyone wants tuition to go down, and offsetting is just a way to buy a clear conscience, I beg to differ. Arguing that $30 is a heavy load to take on when we are trying to lower tuition is pretty pathetic. Delta Gamma was selling each pair of used jeans starting at $65, double and a pinch more than a carbon credit. Gap has a really cute, brown wool vest for $60, double the price of a ton of carbon offsetting, and I have seen lots of students with such a vest. You can buy 15 grande cups of coffee from the bookstore totaling up to $30 (and I’m sure that a large amount of students buy many, many more than 15 cups of coffee a year). Because of the design of Fort Worth, not everyone can ride a bike or walk to school, yet many of these students would still like to help the environment; voila, the solution has arrived. If this additional $30 seems completely outlandish, then maybe it will discourage those students who live five blocks away from driving to school. Maybe students will question the price increase in the parking pass, thus learn a bit or two about carbon offsetting and neutrality. I am begging someone to find me a disadvantage to this plan.

We don’t live in a perfect world where everyone can ride bikes and sing songs in the sunshine on their way to school, and a realistic solution must be implemented to take responsibility for our actions. You cannot stop students from commuting to and from campus – thus, individuals should pay for the amount of carbon that is released into the air that we all breathe, whether we are drivers or not. As we are bred to quote, we must become educated individuals that think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community. Our actions and lifestyles must come up for question as we enter into a new era of environmental concern.

For more information on the carbon market, check out

Gretchen Wilbrandt is a junior environmental science major from Woodstock, Ill.