First President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality town hall talks reducing emissions, corporate interests

Monday, March 11, 2019 - 9:18pm

The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality hosted its first town hall at Rackham Auditorium Monday.

The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality hosted its first town hall at Rackham Auditorium Monday. Buy this photo
Asha Lewis/Daily

The University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality hosted its first town hall Monday night to discuss the goals and responsibilities of the commission and to share the collective ideas of community members with the commission. The commission has scheduled another town hall for April 3.

The event, which was open to all students, faculty and community members, was at capacity and had a waitlist of approximately 90 people. Despite the initial interest in the forum, the auditorium had about 60 open seats during the actual event.

The town hall featured presentations from co-chairs of the commission Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, and Stephen Forrest, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, as well as an audience Q&A.

In an earlier interview with The Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said he hoped the town hall would provide an opportunity for the commission to listen to concerns from Ann Arbor residents and allow community members community members to be more sympathetic toward the efforts of the University in moving toward carbon neutrality.

“I’d love to understand which questions are front of mind for students,” Schlissel said. “In the flipside, I’d love the students to see the thoughtfulness and seriousness with which the members of the commission are taking this really important task.”

Haverkamp began the event by discussing the University’s history of sustainability and its goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2025. She noted, initially, carbon emissions went down by approximately 20 percent, but after the University expanded, emissions are currently only down 7.5 percent.  

“It led to 2025 sustainability goals, which Michigan is still operating under and working toward,” Haverkamp said. “And these were goals on landfill waste, food purchases, land-based chemicals, transportation efficiency, campus culture and, the reason we are here today, greenhouse gases. And the greenhouse gas goal that was established through that process is to, by 2025, reduce scope 1 and scope 2 emissions by 25 percent below the levels that we had in 2006.”

The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard classifies scope 1 emissions as direct emissions from owned or controlled sources and scope 2 emissions as indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy.

Forrest added the commission aims to move past these goals. He said the commission welcomes community input. However, Forrest said he wants people to know the commission has no actual power to take action.

“There will be plenty of opportunity for the public and community to comment suggestions and priorities and so on, but you have to keep in mind that this is an advisory panel only,” Forrest said. “We make recommendations, we are not the ones who make the decisions, that is the sole purview of the Board of Regents, the president and the executive officers.”

An audience member asked how residents can ensure the commission’s work will not be guided by interests of corporations. Haverkamp said the commission needs to take in the perspective of different stakeholders in order to have accurate representation.

Forrest said because the commission does not make decisions, corporate interests are not as relevant.

“There is not a lot of self-interest here,” Forrest said. “This is a volunteer board. Again, we do not make the decision. So it separates the money interest from the decision making conference. Our job is really to distill data and to do the best we can to recommend the best path forward.”

Another audience member asked how the commission is going to foster long-term solutions and keep the community updated on any progress made. Haverkamp said the commission will produce interim reports along the way that will be made public, and the committee is always open to suggestions from residents.

Forrest said open communication between the commission and the community is integral to reducing carbon emissions.

“So much of the commission’s work will be communication,” Forrest said. “If we can’t engage the entire University community, that is a sign that people just don’t care. But that’s not something I believe, I think people care.”

Rackham student Aaron Gladstein said he attended the event to have an accurate understanding of how the University is working to reduce its carbon footprint. He was pleased with the receptiveness of the commission.

“I like how open the commission currently is,” Gladstein said. “I thought I was coming into something, like a premade game plan, and instead this is more they are ready to listen.”

LSA freshman Lena Swirczek is the co-president of the University’s chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She said she also appreciated how open the commission was to audience suggestions and how dedicated they seemed to the cause. However, she discussed how she is worried the Board of Regents will not put as much effort into reducing the University’s carbon emissions.

“I’m more confident now that the commission is actively working towards making recommendations and solutions,” Swirczek said. “My one concern is how regents are going to handle that. My biggest takeaway is that they’re going to do their best to do their research and put in the time and the effort and consult with who they need to consult so that we can move forward on this issue, but I’m just concerned that the regents will not act with the same urgency and expertise.”