Alana Paul, a junior at Tulane University, works as an energy and climate change specialist in the school’s Office of Environmental Affairs. She is majoring in anthropology and environmental policy.

Monday, 30 Sep 2002

NEW ORLEANS, La.

Hello from N’Orleans! After living here for three years, I have grown very attached to this city. The delicious food, Creole houses, sunny weather, and friendly people all make life in “The Big Easy” very enjoyable.

Sadly, global climate change is already affecting Louisiana and threatening to one day destroy New Orleans. Scientists have given the city 50-year notice for disappearing underwater, but every tropical storm or hurricane that hits the Gulf ignites a fear that the real prognosis is even grimmer. This is why my work on climate change is so important; its effects are close to home.

You may be wondering how in the world I got involved in working on climate change issues, especially at America’s biggest party school. I mean, shouldn’t I be out living it up on Bourbon Street or skipping classes to go sunbathing in autumn? Sometimes I feel like one of the few people at Tulane whose goal is to save the world from environmental destruction, not to see how many nights in a row I can drink myself to sleep.

I’ve had a strong interest in the environment ever since high school. When I arrived at Tulane as a freshman in need of a work-study job, I naturally looked into a position in the Office of Environmental Affairs. That’s where I met Liz Davey, the campus environmental coordinator, who offered me a job working on energy and climate change projects. (I didn’t become a “specialist” in the field until my sophomore year.)

The Tulane Office of Environmental Affairs spans many environmental fields. Liz advises me on my work and also consults with students working on projects ranging from alternative transportation to recycling. Energy and climate change is one of the OEA’s bigger issues, because Tulane’s impact on the climate is quite immense: The school spends over $7 million on energy alone. All of the work that I do focuses on ways to reduce that impact. Past projects I’ve worked on include compiling a greenhouse gas inventory of Tulane, designing a student global-warming-awareness survey, and assessing average electricity use and costs of a Tulane dorm room. I have attended and presented at numerous climate change conferences across the nation, participated in climate change activism on and off campus, and had my findings published in print and online.

Last year’s Energy Star dorm room.

Over the past year, I have worked extensively with representatives from Energy Star to design the first-ever Energy Star Showcase Dorm Room. The idea for the room came about while we were assessing the efficiency of our current dorm rooms, and the Energy Star room was unveiled last year. This room was a big deal for Tulane, and an even bigger deal for me, as one of the room’s three residents. Energy Star product manufacturers outfitted the room with donated appliances used by the average college student, including a television, stereo, flat-screen computer monitors, lamps, and more.

Along with my roommates, it was my job to give tours of the room and educate the campus on energy efficiency. Interest in the room was high, leading to tour appearances by Tulane President Scott Cowen, as well as the director of housing and residence life, the director of campus purchasing, and many other administrators students rarely get to meet or work with. All were highly supportive of our work and have offered generous assistance with our subsequent projects. Students and professors also came on these tours and were intrigued by our demonstration of the simplicity of saving energy at “home.” The room is being hosted in a freshman dorm this year in hopes of generating even more interest and attention.

We are kicking off this school year with one of our most engaging efforts to educate the campus on energy efficiency: the Ecolympics. This is a competition between residence halls to see which students can save the most electricity during the month of October. I’ll fill you in on the details in the coming week.