Tuesday November 21, 2017

Time to Get to Work

By Ryan Shea

Do you consider yourself a tree hugger, environmentalist, or nature-lover? Or are you a scientist, educator, or energy engineer? Or do you believe in a responsibility to care for our common home, or even just appreciate clean air and water? If you answered yes to any of the above, chances are it’s been a frustrating, depressing, or confusing past few months.

For me it’s been frustrating particularly in regards to senseless changes to the United States’ energy sector. President Trump approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. Interior Secretary Zinke recommended reducing the area of national monuments to further mining and logging opportunities. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt repealed the Clean Power Plan, the flagship plan to tackle US emissions, and replaced scientists with fossil fuel industry representatives on EPA Advisory Boards. Energy Secretary Perry has asked for separate market rules for nuclear and coal using baseless logic to save their uneconomic industries. And of course you can’t forget about President Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, now the sole climate-denying country on Earth with war-torn Syria recently signing at COP23 this past week.

So yes, I think it’s safe to say things have been better.

But as history has often shown, unprecedented injustice can foster unrivaled action and motivation from grassroots levels to offer change from the bottom up. And in the case of forfeiture of climate and clean energy leadership by withdrawing from Paris, over 2,300 leaders from cities, counties, states, corporations, and universities – including UD – attempted to fill the void with the "We Are Still In" Declaration.

This laid the groundwork for America's Pledge, which Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown recently presented at COP23 to quantify the impact of these commitments. A key takeaway being that those committed to “We’re Still In” would make up the world’s 3rd largest economy, BUT their commitments alone are not enough to achieve the United States’ intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to Paris to reduce emissions by 26-28% by 2025. And when the world’s second largest GHG emitter doesn’t meet its commitments the possibility of Earth’s global warming reaching 2 degrees Celsius – our climate’s breaking-point where ecosystem’s collapse and vast scores of life are wiped out – becomes more of a reality.

So while our federal government remains MIA, those who’ve pledged they’re ‘still in’ to meeting our original commitment to the Paris Climate Accord will have to commit to more and do more if we want a shot at achieving it. So how much is “more,” and what does it mean for institutions like UD who’ve already signed "We Are Still In"?

One major step in doing more starts by increasing the accountability to achieve more short-term goals instead of merely hoping to achieve decades-into-the-future goals. Over 650 colleges and universities signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2005, and most of which, like UD, committed to long-term 2050 carbon goals. Similarly could be said with some cities part of ‘We’re Still In,’ which have already been called out for receiving great press for admirable goals of 100% renewable energy by 2050, but haven’t taken the necessary action today to even start baselining their energy usage or formulating actionable plans to make real progress anytime soon. These long-term goals alone without intermediate and short-term goals can end up stifling urgency for action required to make real progress. And to those affected by recent hurricanes, floods, and wild fires, all of historic devastation, climate change has already arrived and could not be more urgent. And that’s why “We Are Still In" has the potential to make a huge impact, reiterating urgency for immediate action, providing an opportunity commit to short-term goals, and accountability for making substantial progress.

Specifically for UD, “We Are Still In” provides the opportunity to commit to walking the walk and not just talking the talk. In my experience since starting here at UD back in 2012 I’ve seen UD transition from what seemed almost entirely talk, to beginning to walk the walk. In the past few years the creation of the Hanley Sustainability Institute has been instrumental in championing not only administrative commitments like divesting from fossil fuels, but projects in food waste and composting, urban agriculture, and campus sustainability education. Campus energy and emissions have proven more elusive, with an ever growing campus enrollment and area, continually increasing and again reaching a new high this past fiscal year. However, with the creation of the green revolving fund (GRF) last year to provide financial support for clean energy solutions that have positive returns on investment, waves of projects are finally being implemented. And in response to President Spina signing "We Are Still In," the Hanley Sustainability Institute has created a campus energy team to identify and implement large-scale clean energy solutions to reduce campus scope 1 and 2 emissions by 26% by 2025.

This campus energy team, made up of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and facilities management staff, is determined to demonstrate that not only are clean energy solutions possible, but so cost-effective their returns on investment might just raise a few eyebrows in the Davis Center. Our team conducts an energy audit on a campus building every one to two weeks, focusing on major energy users like air handlers, cooling units, boilers, and lighting. This semester we’ve been focusing on large academic buildings, which make up nearly 60% of campus electricity usage. Next semester we’ll be focusing on dorms and apartments, as well as athletics, making up around 20% and 10% of campus electricity respectively. Along the way we’ll be using the GRF to implement our recommendations, and following up by measuring and verifying savings.

Thus far our team has been successful in identifying significant potential in clean energy opportunities, and I’m excited to see how much of an impact we can soon make. Our hope is to use these verified solutions as proof for the potential to achieve even stronger short-term goals and commitments set forth by President Spina. And as hundreds of other universities and colleges look to significantly reduce their emissions, we hope that they can look to UD as a leader both in word and action.

There’s a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it. So let’s get to work.

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