In the summer of 2017, we had the opportunity to have several interns working in the Office of Environmental Sustainability. Below are their answers to questions we asked about their experience interning at the OES. If you are interested in more depth, check out Sara and James's projects at the bottom of the page!
Give a short description of your project and what excited you about this position.
James Corbett ('19): This summer I researched carbon pricing schemes—in particular, carbon taxes—and their policy potential. A carbon tax is basically any tax that works by charging people when they pollute. Want a barrel of oil, a ton of coal, or a liter of natural gas? Well, with a carbon tax in place, you’ll have to pay a fee. In this way carbon taxes are a lot like gas taxes, just more comprehensive. I looked into whether Amherst could implement a carbon tax of its own by charging professors and administrators for their energy usage, and I was very excited to figure out how it might work. Unfortunately, I eventually concluded that a carbon tax would not be feasible for Amherst, but only because Amherst would need a huge amount of information about each building to make a carbon tax fair and effective.
Sara Jinee Buck ('19): I spent the summer doing solar energy research and trying to figure out ways solar fits into the College’s future. In the beginning, I heard that UMASS-Amherst and Hampshire College had recently finished extensive solar projects, and so it made a lot of sense to start with those schools since we share geographical locations and similar sustainability goals. Of all the schools that I researched, UMASS probably had the most information readily accessible to the public. Their sustainability website has live data from their solar panels and they even uploaded pdfs of their solar energy plan, which provided sort of a “sneak-peek” into their decision-making process. Additionally, I checked out the progress of other NESCAC schools and put together a chart that is intended to show each member’s contribution to the total annual energy production in the NESCAC.
Yuko Nakano ('20): The goal of my project was—still is!—to make an educated proposal to the dining staff to ban the distribution of disposable water bottles at Amherst College. It's a very direct way to push for policy change, and the prospect of leaving a lasting mark on school policy is always exciting.
What was the most interesting thing you learned during this process?
James Corbett ('19): There are quite a few interesting things I learned! One is that Massachusetts is making serious progress towards passing carbon-tax legislation. About one-third of the legislature is currently cosponsoring one of two carbon tax bills. Another interesting thing is that some colleges and universities have already experimented with carbon taxes. Yale University, for instance, has tried charging some its buildings for their emissions; it claims this helped to cut emissions by around ten percent. Other schools, like Swarthmore College, don’t go quite as far as Yale but still have interesting schemes of their own.
Sara Jinee Buck ('19): Something really interesting about renewable energy projects on college campuses is that many times these projects are student-driven. In 2007, Middlebury College students proposed a carbon neutrality plan that included solar energy for various spots on campus. The board of trustees approved it and they achieved carbon neutrality in 2016. At the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD), a group of students came together to expand the use of solar energy on the UMD campus. They researched funding options, and constructed a plan for an 11-KW solar project that was approved and is expected to be operational by fall of 2017. For Amherst, based on other schools, I think there is a lot of upside to a student-produced clean energy project if we want to see the college invest in renewables anytime soon.
Yuko Nakano ('20): While boxed water is a better alternative to plastic disposable bottles, it's miles from using a reusable bottle! Get one at AJ Hastings, CVS, or your local coffee shop.
What impact do you hope your work has on Amherst College?
James Corbett ('19): I hope my work has gotten Amherst College administrators and students to think about low-cost ways of cutting emissions. I think people assume too often that cutting emissions always means investing in solar panels and new buildings. Those are certainly great ways to reduce emissions, but they aren’t the only way and they aren’t always the most cost-effective way. I think people underestimate the power of behavior change, or they don’t know how to bring about that kind of change. It’s not so difficult, I think, as long as you can give people an incentive to change their behavior (like small amounts of money for reusing grocery bags, or small fines for using plastic ones). In a way, I think my work is similar to what the eco-reps do--all of us are trying to get people to be more conscientious—we just have different methods.
Has this process changed or influenced what you hope to do next? (next summer, after graduation)?
James Corbett ('19): I don’t know if my experience this summer has brought about that kind of large-scale change in my plans for the future, but I can definitely say this: wherever I end up, I’ll be thinking about a bunch of strange and complicated schemes to cut emissions. Especially if I end up in some kind of management position, where I can force my schemes upon my underlings.
Yuko Nakano ('20): Definitely. Through this school-wide project, public policy work is much less intimidating. Concord, MA, has recently banned the sale of single-service plastic water bottles, and it would be rewarding to work on a municipal bylaw in western Massachusetts and/or nationally!
Thank you, Sara, James, and Yuko for a great summer!