New initiatives for educating students on climate change proposed
U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement on June 1, 2017. The agreement, a commitment by 194 countries to lower worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020, is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind.
The agreement pushes for accurate and transparent reports from individual countries detailing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the primary aim of the agreement is to maintain temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. prevents the further disruption of the earth’s natural systems like ocean currents, global winds and animal migratory patterns.
Since record keeping began in the late 19th century, the average global temperature has risen about 1.3 Celsius , or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scientific consensus asserts that it is this rise in temperature—which is largely attributed to increased carbon dioxide emissions—that has led to the occurrence of more intense extreme natural disasters like droughts and hurricanes.
The United States, a country with the world’s largest and most dynamic economy, is also the biggest carbon dioxide polluter in history.
By withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, the United States is stepping away from its leadership position in promoting a sustainable economy.
It places other governments in a position where they have less economic incentive to reduce their carbon emissions.
If the U.S. federal government continues to stall progress toward reducing emissions by 2020, then it will leave a shortfall that would have to be covered by other countries.
Many people hoped that that the agreement would mark the start to an era of desperately needed global cooperation by governments in relation to the Earth’s climate.
Local governments, private companies and other institutions are beginning to step up and work together to become a part of the solution. Over 300 mayors and several governors from across the country have submitted a pledge to uphold the targets set by the agreement and 120 universities and colleges have made similar commitments.
Pledges like these raise new questions about how much institutions such as universities affect climate change and how motivated they are to combat it.
Baruch College’s Campus Facilities and Operations, headed by Lisa Edwards, is on board. Edwards has pushed for a variety of projects that aim to better the school’s infrastructure and cut its energy expenditure. “Our goal is to reduce 20 percent of [Baruch’s] energy consumptions by 2020,” she said.
The school has replaced 25 water fountains in the Newman Vertical Campus, preventing an estimated half a million disposable bottles from entering the landfill over the past two years.
“I encourage students and faculty to use the water fountains, they reduce energy consumption and trash on campus,” Edwards commented.
Additionally, 2,400 energy efficient LEDs were recently installed at the Athletic Recreation Center, replacing ten times as many traditional bulbs and thereby reducing Baruch’s energy consumption load.
When asked what sustainability meant, Edwards commented, “It means that we are stewards of the earth. We are not here to suck it dry, we are here to improve it, redo it, bring it back.”
She discussed multiple planned projects including a large-scale heating, ventilation and air conditioning project that will begin at the end of the fall. This aims to increase sustainability on campus.
“Right now our energy control is like alchemy, we are stabbing in the dark—with this new system, we will have greater precision. This means less carbon dioxide and reduced costs. We will also replace the cooling towers. They are inefficient. New ones will save us money and help us better refine our energy use,” she said.
For CUNY, the task of reducing carbon emissions is large—it is the third highest energy consumer in the state.
Still, there are signs that directly reducing the carbon footprint of the public university system is in the leadership’s thoughts. On June 6, CUNY Chancellor James Milliken officially stated his support for the Paris climate agreement saying, “The City University of New York enthusiastically supports the ‘We Are Still In’ commitment to the critical goals of the Paris climate agreement. The future of our planet depends upon the kinds of actions that our University and state are already taking to create a clean-energy future. The importance of addressing climate change and global warming cannot be overstated.”
Another member of the CUNY leadership, Lehman College President Jose Luiz Cruz, expressed his commitment to support the goals of the Paris climate agreement in a public statement.
“The Paris agreement reflects international recognition that climate change is real and concerted action imperative. We must redouble our efforts to reduce fossil-fuel emissions, as well as improve our our collective economic well-being through new and better energy sources and technologies.”
A frequent problem with relying solely on institutions to shoulder the responsibility of combating climate change is that they are quick to act when the initiatives have a financial incentive, but are slow to engage in less profitable ventures.
There are a few environmentally-orientated groups at Baruch making a difference at the ground level.
Undergraduate Student Government President Isabel Arias commented, “We are very interested in pushing sustainability improvements forward and we are working with individuals from our who are trying to bring back the Sustainability Committee.”
In addition, Baruch College’s Sustainability Task Force, an on campus group focused on creating a college culture which understands, values and practices sustainability, has helped the school develop more sustainable practices.
The task force removed waste bins from all classrooms and offices on campus and replaced them with floor-by-floor comprehensive waste bin sections.
They also pushed the effort to install water bottle refilling stations, in order to reduce the use of disposable plastic bottles. Beyond that, they have concentrated on spreading awareness of sustainable practices that individuals can follow, like using mass transit, reducing meat consumption and supporting green businesses.
Future initiatives include further educating students on climate change, looking at solar power to charge mobile devices and reducing elevator use on campus.
The reason the Paris climate agreement exists is for large scale cooperation to take place while we still can. As carbon emissions continue to increase and climate related natural disasters intensify, the challenge of combating climate change becomes more burdensome.
Despite being confronted by federal inaction, cities and institutions vow to uphold climate change policies.
At Baruch, students and faculty still have the power to forge the path toward a cleaner and greener tomorrow.