Self-assessment is rarely painless. Whether it be the mirror in the gym or an appraisal at work, applying the standards we expect of others to ourselves can be a chastening experience. On climate change mitigation we are repeatedly exhorted by politicians to do our bit, but in this global greenhouse many of them shouldn't be throwing any stones.
In fact, many people are already doing their bit at home. Most now recycle at least some of their household waste and millions have embraced energy efficiency. It is in the workplace that greater climate awareness goes out of the window, and higher education, for all its brilliant minds, is no different.
In Degrees that Matter: Climate Change and the University , Ann Rappaport and Sarah Hammond Creighton examine the role universities play in human-induced climate change and their potential for tackling it. It is an inspirational read.
Step by step, challenge by challenge, this timely book takes the reader through the many ways to tackle climate change both on campus and off it. Based on the authors' experiences at Tufts University, which has its own Climate Initiative, many of the suggestions benefit greatly from having been tried and tested.
The inevitably US-centric nature of the writing should not put off UK readers, as the various problems and solutions are immediately recognisable as also being relevant to UK universities.
This realism is informed by various failures and successes. From administrative, procurement and technical staff, through to faculty and students, each part of the university community is addressed and the different levers to pull discussed. Suggested strategies for getting students on board include the recruitment of eco-reps who, for a small honorarium, ensure increased recycling rates and energy efficiency in residences, and that the student community is listened to on institutional climate policy.
With each chapter set out rather like a graduate report, it may not be an unputdownable read, but there are few relevant topics that aren't well covered. The chapters progress from a short overview of the greenhouse effect and government-level climate policy, through calculating a campus-wide emissions inventory, to strategies to reduce emissions from key sectors such as buildings, purchasing, transport and waste. For lecturers, there is an excellent chapter on climate change-related projects that can be incorporated into courses. One real example - of a student who somehow calculated the annual saving for replacing a single urinal with a waterless alternative as $6,000, which was more than the total water costs for the entire building - provides a reminder of the need for good quality control of such projects.
Personal action and the beacon-like role that universities can play in promoting emission reductions in local communities and those of its alumni are also examined. As this book points out, our universities produce the next generation of homeowners, politicians and business leaders. As such, theirs is a privileged and potentially world-changing position.
Few books deal so comprehensively with mitigation of climate change in the workplace, and none matches this book in terms of the higher education sector.
Normally, it would suffice to say that every library should have a copy of this book - but that's not enough here. On arrival at university residences, most new undergraduates are greeted with a minimalist white-walled room that is not exactly welcoming. Stripped of its last occupant's posters, books and beanbags, the few remaining items in the room usually include a chair and, somewhere, a copy of the ubiquitous Gideon Bible. Degrees that Matter is a book that demands the same type of ubiquity.
David S. Reay is a Natural Environment Research Council fellow in the School of Geosciences, Edinburgh University.
Degrees that Matter: Climate Change and the University
Author - Ann Rappaport and Sarah Hammond Creighton
Publisher - MIT Press
Pages - 376
Price - £15.95
ISBN - 9780262681667