Sunday, February 3, 2008

Green Bob

What Bob Hath Wrought...
Or, What Are the Consequences of Signing the Climate Commitment?

Mr. Bonzo has previously posted on the current Green revolution at Minnesota. The first green revolution connected to Minnesota was the work of of a Nobel-prize winning General College alum, but that is a topic for another day.

For background on going green at Minnesota, see:

Re-writing History At Minnesota
Or, How Green Is My Power Plant


Bob Bites The Bullet

Some of these earlier posts contained an error, since modified but still under investigation, about the amount of coal that the university burns in its power plant. There are also some numbers posted on the CARMA website concerning the source of fuel for the university's power plant as well as the amount of carbon dioxide that the plant produces. They don't seem to agree with university statements about the fuel mixture for the power plant. CARMA states on their website that they will correct any errors and so Bonzo has informed a university administrator of the existence of CARMA. If the site is in error, hopefully the university will inform them of this fact. Any new developments in this area will be posted.

But the main topic for this post is the consequences of OurLeader signing the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. There seems to be some misunderstanding on the part of university administrators, or people who speak for them, about the consequences of signing this agreement. Some material from the Chronicle of Higher Education follows:

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Buildings & Grounds

The Greening of the U. of Minnesota

In December, The Chronicle ran a story about the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, which included a box on four institutions that, so far, had refused to sign.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was one of them. University officials, like those at other institutions that had not signed, were concerned that some of the goals of the commitment — notably climate neutrality — just weren’t feasible. The Twin Cities campus gets about 70 percent of its power from fossil fuels, a great deal of which is coal, one of the dirtiest and least-climate-friendly power sources out there. Deborah L. Swackhamer, interim director of the university’s Institute on the Environment, was also concerned about the commitment’s fuzzy language and its push to include sustainability in the curriculum, which is set by faculty members, not the university president.

It seemed that Robert H. Bruininks, the university president, would never sign.

Yet on January 8, Mr. Bruininks added the University of Minnesota system to the list of signatories, making Minnesota the first Big 10 university to commit.

He did so without a lot of fanfare. Although student groups celebrated the signing, the university never even issued a news release about it.

Daniel Wolter, a spokesman for the university, said that after examining the commitment, university officials found that it was “in line with our institutional goals.” But he said there has been some “frustration” about the emphasis that people have placed on signing the commitment.

“There is an unusually large focus being put on this one specific agreement,” he said. “Our concern is that there are a lot more meaningful things that institutions can do with regards to climate.”

For example, the university is a member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, a legally binding climate agreement that has real penalties for institutions and businesses that do not meet carbon-reduction goals. There are no penalties associated with the presidents climate commitment, and colleges can meet goals on their own timeline.

Mr. Wolter also said that advocates of the climate commitment have tried to use Minnesota’s signing as leverage to get other Big 10 institutions to join up. “I think every other institution needs to look at [the commitment] and how it fits with their campuses,” he said. “We are not making any pronouncements about other campuses and what they should and should not do.”

Now, the work begins. Although small colleges have been able to make great strides toward climate neutrality, that goal is more difficult for large institutions. The University of Minnesota’s Morris campus, which was among the commitment’s charter signatories, gets a great deal of power from wind; Mr. Wolter says university officials believe that the rest of Minnesota likewise will move away from coal in time.

What may have been thought impossible a few months ago has now become an imperative.

It is interesting to see what our president has commited us to do. From the commitment website:

Accordingly, we commit our institutions to taking the following steps in pursuit of climate neutrality:

1. Initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.

a. Within two months of signing this document, create institutional structures to guide the development and implementation of the plan.

b. Within one year of signing this document, complete a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions (including emissions from electricity, heating, commuting, and air travel) and update the inventory every other year thereafter.

c. Within two years of signing this document, develop an institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral, which will include:

i. A target date for achieving climate neutrality as soon as possible.

ii. Interim targets for goals and actions that will lead to climate neutrality.

iii. Actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students.

iv. Actions to expand research or other efforts necessary to achieve climate neutrality.

v. Mechanisms for tracking progress on goals and actions.

And also from the commitment:

In recognition of the need to build support for this effort among college and university administrations across America, we will encourage other presidents to join this effort and become signatories to this commitment.
This seems to contradict Mr. Wolter's statement concerning pronouncements from signers to other campuses about what they should be doing.

We apparently have a lot of work to do. Let's get on with it. Oh, and this is going to cost money. Let's be honest about that, too.

Ciao, Bonzo

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