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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Viewpoint: Revamping renewable energy

BY CHRIS TAKAHASHI AND GREG HANAFIN

Published May 7, 2014

During the 2007 football season opener, the top-10 ranked Wolverines were handed a humiliating defeat at the hands of Appalachian State University. With one of the worst openers in Michigan history, it looked like the season was lost.

A few months later and off the gridiron, the Michigan Student Assembly — later renamed Central Student Government — passed a student government resolution calling on the University to revamp investments in renewable energy. Citing an unacceptably low percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal) for campus — 0.3 percent at the time — the resolution called for Ann Arbor’s campus to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2015. Now just a year shy of that 2015 deadline, how does the University fare when it comes to renewable energy?

Somewhere between three and four percent of campus’ energy needs are met by renewable energy today, according to the Office of Campus Sustainability.

With the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in late March, the United Nations warns that in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change we must double investments in clean energy. If the University didn’t heed the call of a student government resolution in 2007 will they at least recognize a message from the United Nations and the world’s leading scientists?

One of the greatest things about the University of Michigan is that we are always in a position to make a difference. We are role models, the leaders and best. When Michigan speaks, others listen. So we must speak, and we must do it loudly. Within our relatively secure community, it can often be difficult to see the effects of fossil fuels, but look with a wider perspective and they are staggering. Look at Detroit, where communities are exposed daily to the air and water pollution from coal and oil refineries. Look at the Great Lakes, where plummeting water levels and spiking water temperatures threaten the economy, water security and ecology of the region. On a more national scale, look at the recent drought in California, the worst in its recorded history. And these pale in comparison to the climate-induced impacts on many of the poorest and most vulnerable countries around the world.

That’s why our organization — Students for Clean Energy — decided to act. We launched our “Greener Than Sparty” campaign in March and rolled out with a UPetition that has since surpassed 700 signatures. Through countless conversations with fellow students, we have yet to experience any trepidation to support the cause. The campaign continues to grow in both student involvement and in making our presence felt by the administration, and we have no intentions of slowing down.

The technology is out there, it’s up to us to take advantage of it and then improve upon it. We should expect our University to be innovative when it comes to sourcing clean, renewable energy on campus. Take the Ohio State University for example. OSU has committed to a stake in wind farm development that powers approximately 23 percent of their electricity and will now annually save nearly $1 million. When will Michigan follow suit? Are we so content to bow down to the school down south? As the inspiration for our campaign name, Greener Than Sparty, Michigan State is on track to power 15 percent of their campus’ energy needs from renewable sources. Our campaign calls for the University to either match or exceed the renewable energy goals of MSU by 2015.

Remember that 2007 team that lost to Appalachian State? Well they turned the season around, going 9-4 and winning the Capital One Bowl. Like them, we can turn around our attitude toward clean energy. We envision some poetic justice in this story — Appalachian State is Michigan’s season opener this fall. Just as they will seek redemption for their previous defeat, so too can the University for past failure to invest in clean energy. It’s time to recognize that when it comes to energy, there’s no better way to be Blue than to go green.

Chris Takahashi and Greg Hanafin are LSA seniors.