Representatives of various student organizations, such as the Student Sustainability Coalition and Sierra Club, at the University of Michigan met at the Union to discuss student engagement in the University’s plans to achieve carbon neutrality as well as administrative changes that may concern the University’s carbon neutrality plan. The meeting was organized by the Student Sustainability Coalition, who reached out to the various organizations in hopes of starting collaboration on efforts for carbon neutrality at the University.
Several key positions at the University are currently open, including those of President, Provost, Dean of Business and the Executive Advisor to the President on Carbon Neutrality, a new position suggested by the PCCN. Students expressed their concerns about a lack of criteria related to carbon neutrality in hiring for these positions. However, some activists at the meeting said the openings create a chance for cooperation.
LSA senior Aaron Boockvar-Klein, one of the organizers of the event and the Finance and Cooperations Operator for the Student Sustainability Coalition, said this moment was perfect to catalyze cooperation between the organizations.
“Students have a lot of ideas and stay in their bubbles, and it’s hard to bring collective action together,” Boockvar-Klein said. “From time to time, there is a critical mass and a perfect storm of things coming together, and the open roles for President, Dean of Ross, Provost and Special Advisor to the President for Carbon Neutrality created that touch point for the perfect storm.”
The representatives also discussed various modes through which student organizations can help the University achieve its carbon neutrality goals, one being greater education for students across the University. LSA sophomore Meera Herle, senior policy advisor for student justice in the Central Student Government, spoke on the reality of carbon neutrality education on campus.
“I would love if every single student was on the same page as myself and everyone in this room about carbon neutrality,” Hearle said. “I would love if everyone was already thinking ‘We need to take XYZ action to reach this net zero goal.’ That’s just simply not the case.”
The group members suggested implementing a module during orientation for incoming students or the introduction of a sustainability requirement for graduation similar to the current race and ethnicity requirement for LSA students.
The organizers noted this has been discussed within the University since the beginning of the semester, but discussed expressing explicit support for such a policy at this time.
Herle discussed how education could benefit students who are interested in learning about living sustainably. Michigan Housing offers the Sustainable Living Experience to first- and second-year undergraduates to allow interested students a more in-depth look at sustainable practices.
“Now we have this big requirement that we’re proposing to hopefully help with that culture and give students a baseline,” Herle said. “Coming into the University, we would ask ‘What is your knowledge on carbon neutrality and sustainability’ and ‘Do you know what resources are available to you at the University?’”
Another focus of the meeting was creating a common agenda between sustainability-minded organizations. Engineering junior Brendan Ireland, president and co-founder of both Fridays for Future and the University of Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke about how cooperation influences a movement.
“You have to consolidate, you have to coalesce into a movement,” Ireland said. “I think it’s necessary. Because, especially with climate change, the clock keeps ticking down.”
The organizations discussed themes around which to organize their actions. They decided to focus on communicating their expectations. They expect results, the implementation of a sustainability module for orientation or a requirement in University curriculum and they expect to see carbon neutrality in the criteria for positions in upper administration. The organizations agreed to come together on a single, cohesive document to express their intentions and priorities to University administration and the broader student body.
Ireland discussed how important this document is to achieving carbon neutrality.
“I think, personally, that an open letter is important, because it shows people that this organization is happening,” Ireland said.
Ireland also expressed his hopes for the future of the cooperation between these organizations.
“This was a start, but it was a really, really good start,” Ireland said. “It’s overdue in some ways, but it’s also like the perfect time for it. I see such an opportunity here, and I’m really excited for it.”
Daily Staff Reporter Riley Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.