A Hundred Trees Planted to Offset Carbon Emissions

Julia Herbst, News Editor

As part of continuing efforts to offset carbon emissions on campus, students and grounds crew members gathered last Saturday, April 20, to plant 100 trees in the former agricultural fields north of the solar panels.

The event, organized by the Carbon Management Fund and co-sponsored by Ecolympics, is the second major tree-planting event this academic year. In November, a group of approximately 20 students planted 27 trees in Tappan Square. The Green EDGE Fund, which finances a variety of local environmental projects, also helped the Oberlin Rotary Club fund an additional 30 trees which were planted as part of the Club’s 75th anniversary celebration last fall.

Dennis Greive, College grounds services manager, helped with both of the tree planting events and emphasized the impact that even a few trees can have on the atmosphere.

“Those trees that we planted on … Saturday are scheduled to absorb 100 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere during their lifetime,” said Greive. “I tell that to people and a lot of people look at me like they can’t believe it. Because I think they assume and they’ve been told that there’s nothing that anybody can do about climate change. But when you tell them that we did that [in one day], … I think that surprises people.”

Tree planting is one of three pilot projects designed by the Carbon Management Fund, which was organized principally by College junior Noel Myers and College seniors Tani Colbert-Sangree and James Foust. The other two projects focus on increasing energy efficiency in community homes through a partnership with the nonprofit organization, Providing Oberlin With Efficiency Responsibly, and working to implement soil practice improvements and other agroforestry techniques in community farms.

“Oberlin [College] has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2025, but in the fall they didn’t have a plan to actually achieve that,” said Colbert-Sangree, who is also a student senator and EDGE Fund board member. “So the idea behind [the Carbon Management Fund] is that it would create the plan and … create projects that would offset carbon and achieve carbon neutrality.”

Kristin Braziunas, OC ’08 and assistant director of the Oberlin Project, has also played a significant role in the development of the Carbon Management Fund through assistance with grant writing, partnership facilitation and institutionalization. Reaching carbon neutrality is one of the goals of the Oberlin Project, along with creating a 13-acre Green Arts District, conserving 20,000 acres of green space around the city and creating an educational alliance between local schools.

“The Carbon Management Fund is an excellent example of a blended value project,” said Braziunas in an e-mail to the Review. “[This means that] it is not focused solely on environmental benefit in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but that it also aims to provide economic benefit to efficiency and agricultural projects in the local and regional community, aesthetic value through reforestation, educational value in project development and research for the students and partners involved, and community value through collaboration on projects such as the tree-planting with Rotary and the city.”

Senate’s yearly referendum suggests that a majority of students support carbon-offsetting efforts at Oberlin. For the past two years, students voted in favor of a $10 line item to be added to every student’s term bill to help offset carbon costs incurred by travel to and from campus and by student athletes traveling to away games. According to Colbert-Sangree, 73 percent of students who took the Senate’s referendum supported the line item as of April 22, up from 65 percent of students who supported the line item last year.

However Colbert-Sangree, who is graduating in May, said that although there are some younger students who have been active in the Carbon Management Fund, he is having trouble finding enough students interested in organizing future projects.

“The main problem we’re having now is just a lack of student interest in wanting to continue this. I’ve been going to a bunch of student environmental groups and trying to pitch to them … but no one’s really stepped up and been like, ‘Yeah, I want to put some serious work into it,’” said Colbert-Sangree.

Despite this, the project is moving forward. Colbert-Sangree said that the Fund plans on bringing in consultants to calculate more precisely the number of tons of carbon that the trees offset and then setting up a local carbon offset market by selling shares to the College. Eventually, they plan on offering to sell the shares to others, including alumni, community members and parents of students.