The Ann Arbor District Library hosted the first of four planned public forums focusing on sustainability measures taken by the city and the University Thursday evening.
The forum, titled “Climate and Energy,” featured presentations by University sustainability representative Anya Dale, Nathan Geisler, the Ann Arbor Energy Programs Analyst, Wayne Appleyard, chair of the Ann Arbor Energy Commission and Sean Reed, Executive Director of the Clean Energy Coalition.
Mike Garfield, executive director of the Ecology Center, introduced the forum by detailing the history of climate change activism in the country and the political challenges that scientists and proponents of clean energy have faced.
“But in the last five to six years, something else has begun to happen and it gives me a lot of hope,” he said. “First, very slowly and then increasingly fast, ordinary people around the world have stood up and demanded action.”
Garfield said the development of local and independent solutions to create a clean energy environment has led to increased civilian and community support globally.
“In short, a remarkable global movement has emerged to call for a clean energy future before it’s too late,” he said.
In Ann Arbor, those solutions have taken the form of mechanisms such as the city’s Climate Action Plan. Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed the plan in 2012, with over 80 steps to reduce the city’s cumulative gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2050.
“Our plan, in spirit and in content, is consistent with the aims of the Paris agreement,” Geisler said. “The plan does not and could not articulate, from 2025 to 2050, how exactly we get there. But there’s a lot of big things that have to happen not only in the city but also, more broadly, throughout the state.”
On the federal level, in August 2015 President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency introduced the Clean Energy Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030 based on levels in 2005.
Geisler said he expects the CEP will have a significant impact on the CAP’s goals. The city experienced an increase in overall emissions between 2010 and 2015 and called for a community effort to improve clean energy, according to Geisler.
“Over 98 percent of emissions in Ann Arbor and community-wide are beyond the control of the municipality, so we really need a community-wide effort to raise awareness and build the kind of support that’s necessary to make sure that we’re doing our part in helping to meet these goals,” he said. “There will possibly be an improvement, though we don’t have all the data yet and we don’t think we’ll see a large increase, community-wide, in overall reduction.”
The forum also touched on international efforts, namely the December 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The 195 nations who attended conference, including the U.S., adopted several measures that would decrease carbon emissions in their respective countries.
“I would suggest this mostly happened because people have started to seriously mobilize,” Garfield said. “However, while the Paris commitments are substantially verifiable, they are neither enforceable nor sufficient. I’d suggest here that we’ll only succeed in stabilizing global temperatures if people continue to mobilize and if local communities continue to act on their own.”
In terms of the University — which currently accounts for 30 percent of the city’s carbon emissions — Dale highlighted recent policies and goals aimed at promoting sustainability on campus.
She said one of the biggest goals the University has set, in compliance with the Climate Action Plan, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent of what it was in 2006 by 2025.
“Unfortunately, in 2014 we were a little bit higher than we were in 2006 and that is largely because of the way the goal was set,” she said. “The goal does not factor in how we’ve grown as a university. Our energy use is going down, but we keep growing and growing. Overall, our usage is not decreasing as we would like to see.”
Some further actions that will be implemented by the University, Dale said, are expanding the use of cogeneration at the University’s central power plant, establishing a fund for renewable energy demonstration projects, expanding current energy reduction programs such as Planet Blue Energy Management and seeking additional methods for greenhouse gas emissions.