“The cord isn’t long enough to plug into the sun, what’d you expect?” asked the panel installation contractor.
Photo by Kaz Nuckowski
In an unprecedented strategy to adapt to “A Changing Planet,” administrators at UC San Diego’s Seventh College have pivoted to a new method to tackle the climate crisis. Known as “sustainability theatre,” this strategy developed by students enrolled in the Synthesis writing program has led administrators to install additional solar panels that create the appearance of sustainability, but don’t actually provide any power. While some students have criticized this move, the decision has been broadly praised by faculty across campus.
“These panels are a bold step towards sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint,” stated the university in a press release. “We are incredibly proud of Seventh College’s leadership on this ‘Changing Planet,’ which has undoubtedly been the result of their incredibly challenging writing courses.” The head of the Central Campus Utility Plant embraced the idea too, saying, “You know, change is hard, and there’s nothing like the status quo. Our future remains bright, even in overcast conditions!” Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla lauded the new panels, saying, “I’ve never seen UC San Diego’s funds put to better use! Oh, except when we decided to increase the budget for leaving the lights on overnight inside a bunch of campus buildings, in support of the school’s motto. ‘Fiat lux!’ I can’t recall, was it President Drake or was it God who said that first?”
Despite praise from key administrators, some students voiced their criticism of the panels. “I was really excited when I heard about the new solar panels,” said geometry major Angel Wright. “But when I looked at them, I noticed that they’re not even pointed in a good direction to catch the sun!” Glen Greene, a resident of Seventh College, said, “In the hours before sunset, the reflections from the new panels turn the building across the street into a death ray. This made seven students get heat stroke, and two were even blinded! I had no choice but to buy a portable AC unit to keep my place cool.” Even the provost of the college disagreed with the solution, saying, “The new panels didn’t come with decorative wires, so they can’t even appear to be plugged in! It’s painfully obvious that they’re non-functional. It completely breaks the immersion of sustainability theatre, which is an insult to the hardworking students that developed the philosophy. At least the current panels are theoretically functional, though they may not be turned on and connected to the campus grid. So how on Earth could these decorative panels be expected to support the campus infrastructure? Honestly, it’s scandalous.”
The “faux-lar panels,” which were manufactured by a little-known company called Greenwashed Solutions, are marketed as a sustainable and eco-friendly choice. A spokesperson said, “While they may not be remotely functional for generating electricity, they generate commentary, which gets people ready to enact some real change! They’re also 20% cheaper than traditional photovoltaics, have 20% more rare earth metals, and are 20% easier to install. I’ve just gotten word that Eighth College has placed an even larger order for them — and some of our coal-powered wind turbines to boot!”
Despite the controversy, UCSD administrators have maintained their decision to install the panels. “Even if the panels aren’t providing power, they still send a message that we care about the environment,” said one administrator. “And on this changing planet, that’s what really matters, right?”