‘U’ joins climate change coalition following recommendation from carbon neutrality commission

Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - 8:46pm

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced Wednesday morning the University will be joining the University Climate Change Coalition

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced Wednesday morning the University will be joining the University Climate Change Coalition Buy this photo
Danyel Tharakan/Daily

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced Wednesday morning the University will be joining the University Climate Change Coalition, a group of leading research universities collaborating on a model to help communities move toward a low-carbon future. The decision comes on the eve of the University-sponsored Earthfest and two days before the Washtenaw County Climate Strike is set to take place on the Diag.

The move follows a recommendation from the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality. In a University Record article published Wednesday morning, Schlissel said climate change is an issue that must be solved collaboratively. 

“The problem of global climate change is far too big for any one institution to solve alone,” Schlissel said. “Collaboration and engagement are key to creating real and lasting solutions that will benefit our society.” 

The coalition, which is run by the organization Second Nature and commonly referred to as UC3, unites 20 universities across the continent in an effort to accelerate climate change solutions through innovative ideas and action. The coalition’s primary goal is to foster collaboration among prominent academic institutions across the country toward a more sustainable future.

In an email to The Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote the commission felt joining the coalition would support the University’s goal of having an impact beyond campus. Fitzgerald explained Schlissel accepted the commission’s recommendation and signed a letter committing to the suggestions on Aug. 29.

“As you may know, one of the main reasons President Schlissel appointed the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality was to look for ways in which the university could have a broader impact beyond the border of the Ann Arbor campus,” Fitzgerald wrote. “UC3 membership will provide U-M the opportunity to collaborate with key research institutions and external partners to share and gain knowledge to accelerate climate change solutions.”

This decision comes after a semester of climate-related activism, primarily from the Washtenaw County Climate Action Movement. In March, the group hosted a climate strike, which resulted in a sit-in at Schlissel’s office and 10 arrests.

Following the strike, the Climate Action Movement members held an indefinite sit-in, attended events with Schlissel and spoke at regents meetings. The University added a public session to its series of town halls in order to hear community input.

In June, six demonstrators who were charged with trespassing during the first climate strike appeared in court for a pre-trial, which resulted in a Sept. 9 court date. At the September meeting, the six once again appeared in court to review the facts of the case and any evidence ahead of the Oct. 10 trial date.

LSA senior Dim Mang, an organizer for the climate strike, felt joining the coalition was a positive step, but she questioned the timing. She specifically pointed to an announcement from the University of California on Tuesday declaring a climate emergency and committing itself to carbon neutrality by 2025 as well as the upcoming climate strike.

“With all due respect to the president, I think the timing is a little strange, not only because the strike is coming up, but because of what the UC system has just decided to do,” Mang said. “I’m not questioning the sincerity of joining the coalition, I just want to understand why he wouldn't do it sooner or what’s the point of joining it right now, at this moment, when there are other ways that he could aid climate action movements and other initiatives on campus.”

Similarly, LSA junior Solomon Medintz, who is also an organizer of the strike and a columnist for The Daily, said he feels the University needs to take action beyond this.

“From what I do know, it seems like a good step, but what I also know is that the University just invested $80 million in the Central Power Plant, I know the University has a billion dollars invested in fossil fuels and I know that the University has the least ambitious carbon neutrality goals of any school in the Big Ten,” Medintz said. “(I’m) super happy that they're joining the national climate change coalition, but I think it underscores the amount of work that needs to be done trying to push the University to take real climate action.”

The University has taken action to achieve Schlissel’s commitment to gaining carbon neutrality. Some of these initiatives include coordinating community forums, commissioning internal analysis teams, engaging the student communities and seeking proposals from external firms on environmental concerns at the University. 

Rackham student Austin Glass, a member of the commission, said UC3 brings schools of similar stature together.

“One of the important parts of UC3 is that it’s a sort of concentration of passion, it’s a concentration of interest, it’s a concentration of information, it’s concentration of resources,” Glass said. “The nice thing about UC3 is that it's collaborative and that the sort of logic behind it is logic that pervades a lot of work in this area, which is that we’re stronger when we’re working together, especially when we have a common goal, and we do have a common goal.”

Glass said being in the coalition allows the University to hold itself to the other institutions in the coalition. He specifically pointed to the University of California system as one member the University could take cues from.

The Commission on Carbon Neutrality is hosting a forum to update the community on Sept. 25 at 4:30 p.m. in Rackham. 

Additionally, the University is planning an Earth Day celebration, which will be the first of a series of events focused on sustainability. Thursday’s EarthFest is set to take place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Diag with the goal of bringing together environmental leaders to explore how to create a better future for the planet.