Meet Timothy Den Herder-Thomas, campus sustainability activist

Timothy Den Herder-Thomas has written several articles about Macalester's global citizens. This week, we're looking at his own projects.

Nikhil Gupta

Friday, September 21, 2007

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Matthew Stone

Timothy's sustainability projects include hanging clotheslines in campus laundry rooms.

-You see him around campus, with his distinctive, unruly mane of curls, hurrying to attend the next meeting for an initiative against global warming.He can be found at virtually every meeting about sustainability or community action working for projects about which he is passionate.


He is one of the great characters at Macalester that gives this school its sense of vibrancy. He is also a living testament to self-empowerment.


He is Timothy Den Herder-Thomas.

Den Herder-Thomas is dedicated to averting the impending energy crisis and ecological disaster resulting from global warming.


"I see climate change and the energy crisis as a defining paradigm shift of our society and lives," Den Herder-Thomas said. "I am deeply excited by the possibilities this holds."

To realize this vision, he has committed himself to three projects-the Clean Energy Revolving Fund (CERF), Campus Wars, and People Power Initiative (PPI).


"CERF is a financial mechanism whereby investment in energy efficiency is paid back by the energy dividends," Justin Lee '08 said. Lee is also involved with the fund and sustainability issues.

Most recently, CERF replaced over 1,200 incandescent bulbs on campus with more energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.

According to Lee, this effort will save the college $4,800 per year.


"The bulbs have a payback period of at the most two years," he said. "It's like the stock market doing 50% a year."


Campus Wars is an initiative that began at Macalester two years ago with the objective of improving energy efficiency in the dorms. Originally called "Dorm Wars," the project has since been expanded to include the entire campus.


Last year, the initiative was extended to the entire state of Minnesota, where Macalester took first in overall efficiency. This year, Den Herder-Thomas said, he and other students are working to expand campus wars to the national level.


Den Herder-Thomas has joined others in trying to formulate large-scale community efficiency projects that utilize similar financial mechanisms as CERF.


"We seek to partner with non-profits and community groups to get aggregate energy efficiency," he said.


"I believe that individuals make change by working with others towards change, but also by having the willingness to be changed by all the things they are working with," he explained. "It's the difference between acting on a system and acting with a system. I have trouble with the idea of an individual because it implies that the individual is apart from everything else. You can't do anything in a vacuum. There isn't anything in a vacuum."


He believes this philosophy of "self-empowerment and collective empowerment" is vital if humans are to succeed in creating a sustainable future.


"There is not going to be central management to the solution [to global warming]," Den Herder-Thomas said. "Everyone is going to need to develop and execute these changes separately."

His belief that it is only through engaging communities and empowering individuals that humanity can create a sustainable future manifest in his participation in the People Power Initiative (PPI).


PPI is an open think-tank that seeks to combine the various viewpoints of the public, students, and community leaders.

The goal, according to Madeleine Kovacs '08, one of the organizers behind the think-tank, is "to create tangible solutions" for sustainable development and renewal.

Instead of being too paralyzed to act, we need to break down monumental tasks, such as averting global disaster, into manageable chunks, Den Herder-Thomas said as advice to those who feel ineffective.


For those of us who still need to be shown the first step, Den Herder-Thomas provided one: "Don't move from ignorance to apathy without stopping in the middle."


"When you're studying, ask yourself how it applies to what you are planning to do with your life," Den Herder-Thomas said. "It means changing your culture so that comfort on a warm winter day is blankets and sweaters and not t-shirts and heaters. It means being aware.