If the growth of Hamilton's environmental efforts were to be plotted on a timeline, many would mark April 26, 2007, as Day One. That was the day President Joan Hinde Stewart signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging the College to take a dramatic series of short- and long-term steps to become climate-neutral. Not coincidentally, it was also the day that former Vice President and soon-to-be Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore visited campus to deliver his warning on the threat of climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," as part of the Sacerdote Series Great Names at Hamilton.
In fact, however, environmental concerns have played an important role — if not always a consistent one — in campus life and operations over many generations. Samuel Kirkland's original 1793 "Plan of Education" for Hamilton-Oneida Academy included instruction in agriculture and cultivation on "a small piece of land ... appropriated to the sole use and benefit of the academy," therefore "affording amusement and assisting in the study of natural history" as well as training in farming and gardening. Students themselves sought to establish a tradition of tree-planting as early as the 1830s. In 1853, a group of benefactors including Oren Root 1833, by then a professor of mathematics and science, and J.C. Hastings, a local landscape gardener, created a fund and plan for designing the campus landscape, planting nearly 300 different varieties of trees and shrubs. Simultaneously, Root and his wife, Nancy, began cultivating what became, over many decades, Hamilton's iconic 7½-acre Root Glen garden and ravine — previously little more than a dumping ground for the College and locals.
The Hamilton of the 21st century builds on that legacy with a clear-eyed, long-term commitment to the environment — what Tom Succop '58, a landscape architect who helped shape the contemporary campus and Arboretum, calls "a stewardship of the land." The features that follow focus on four facets of that stewardship: interdisciplinary teaching and mentoring in the classroom and the research lab; greater efficiency and awareness in campus operations; grassroots student efforts to make a difference locally and globally; and the dedication of Hamilton and Kirkland alumni and alumnae to sustainability and a healthy environment.
On that last topic, Hamiltonians may come to recognize Jan. 20, 2009, as another milestone — the confirmation of Tom Vilsack '72 as the U.S. secretary of agriculture as that agency takes on crucial roles in energy policy and nutrition.
Above all, Hamilton's mission is not only to inspire awareness and commitment, but to encourage and teach the critical intelligence essential to making wise choices as individuals and as a community. "There's no turning back now," says Katheryn Doran, associate professor of philosophy. "There is simply too much at stake."