BAR HARBOR – At his inauguration Sunday afternoon, the new president of College of the Atlantic predicted that the 21st century will be unprecedented in the pace and magnitude of threats to the global environment and social order.
“The potential for violence, and the imperative for peace have never been greater,” said Texas native David Hales. It is up to the world’s institutions of education to lead the way back from the brink of disaster, Hales told his audience, and COA, with a modest undergraduate enrollment of about 300 students, has a significant role to play. The president also unveiled a new campus initiative aimed at offsetting the campus’s contribution to global warming.
Noting that the liberal arts college has attracted students from 47 U.S. states and 51 countries since its founding in 1969, Hales said their work in the world improves relationships between humans and the environment while creating a “more sustainable, peaceful and just” society.
“[COA is] a small but essential part of the global network,” he said.
Hales, who has built his 40-year career in the interrelated fields of environmentalism, sustainable development and resource management, replaces outgoing President Steven Katona, who retired in June after serving as president since 1993. Hales is the fifth president of the college. About 200 students, alumni, staff and faculty gathered at the ocean-side campus Sunday to welcome him to the school, which has built an international reputation for academic excellence since it was founded in 1970. COA students study the complex relationships between humans and their environment, and graduates receive a bachelor’s or master’s degree in human ecology.
The new president isn’t wasting any time making his leadership mark. The small private college has taken on the challenge of becoming the nation’s first “net zero campus” when it comes to the production of greenhouse gasses, Hales announced Sunday, and he challenged other colleges to pursue the same goal.
“Just as all greenhouse gas emissions adversely affect the atmosphere, all emission reductions benefit it,” said Hales. “What we put into the atmosphere in Maine can be offset by reducing emissions here and elsewhere, so that we are able to reduce our college’s negative global warming impact to zero.”
While details were not available at press time, COA spokeswoman Donna Gold explained that a special fund has been created for investing in low-emissions technologies. The school will measure “anything that produces greenhouse gases, from the electricity we use on campus to commuting by our staff and students. Every ounce of carbon we put into the air will be offset” by investment in those low-emissions technologies.
Also speaking at Sunday’s ceremony was Frank E. Loy, whose long diplomatic career includes international negotiation in the fields of environmental sustainability, human rights, the promotion of democracy, refugees and humanitarian affairs and counternarcotics. Loy said environmentalists must do a better job of engaging average citizens in the debate over protecting the environment.
While studies consistently show Americans do care about environmental issues, most don’t care enough to change their consumption patterns, he said. In addition, “there is an active anti-environmental movement in the United States,” fueled by the belief that environmentalists are hostile to business and favorable to government involvement in citizens’ lives.
Loy said environmentalists must work harder to understand why people resist change even in the face of mounting scientific evidence, and then “market” environmental issues and concerns more effectively.
For more about College of the Atlantic, visit www.coa.edu or phone 288-5015.