BY LIZZIE GROBBEL
Published December 1, 2011
University President Mary Sue Coleman recently announced that the University would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025. While this might sound impressive, the fact remains that 674 universities have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment which requires carbon neutrality — a 100-percent reduction in emissions. I find it hard to believe Coleman’s statement that “sustainability defines the University of Michigan” when 674 other universities in the United States have committed to reducing their carbon footprint by four times the percentage we pledged.
As the European Union has committed to an 80 to 95 percent emissions reduction by 2050, our promise of a 25-percent reduction pales in comparison. It seems other institutions have accepted what ours has not; the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is projected to double over the next 50 years, and carbon emissions need to be cut by 8 billion metric tons per year to maintain our current output levels. If this does not occur, scientists predict global warming, increased extreme weather, ecological disruption and threats to human health.
If the University is truly to be defined by sustainability, we need to develop a comprehensive carbon-neutral action plan. Only then will we exemplify the “Leaders and Best” and make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change. Many of the required steps in reducing carbon footprint have economic payback. For example, shrinking the University’s dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels, reducing energy usage and downsizing overall consumption of resources should result in cost savings.
While the size of the University is certainly an obstacle, it is also an invaluable resource. The students, faculty and stakeholders can be key contributors in achieving carbon neutrality. The University of Kansas, as an example, created a capstone course for graduate students to develop the school’s climate-neutrality action plan. The University of Michigan should employ its wealth of resources — engaging the entire University community — to create a realistic carbon-reduction plan to achieve neutrality within a time frame that befits our institution. In this way, we will battle climate change and truly allow ourselves to be “defined” by sustainability.