By: Denali Selent
“[Signing the PCLC] will elevate our awareness that achieving carbon neutrality and climate resilience requires the dedication of everyone in the University community, and it will inspire us to act as One Miami.”
– President Gregory Crawford to GreenHawks Media
Today, Sept. 22, 2020, is a historic day for Miami University’s continued commitment to environmental sustainability. At 12:00 PM EST over a Zoom call, President Crawford will sign the most robust of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments (PCLC) outlined by the organization Second Nature. While reducing carbon emissions has long been a focus for the RedHawks, the PCLC will seal the deal with an aim for carbon neutrality as a University.
On Sunday, Sept. 20, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Adam Sizemore and Dr. Jonathan Levy, the two co-chairs of the Carbon Action Task Force created to oversee the PCLC. These two sustainability experts, in conjunction with statements from President Crawford, provide a look into the background of the PCLC and the implications it will have on the Miami community.
While seemingly unrelated, catching a flight for study abroad, sitting in a chair in the Armstrong Student Center and hopping into a car to drive to campus all have something distinct in common. They, among a plethora of other activities, are sources of carbon emissions tied to the University, as Dr. Sizemore points out.
For simplification, such activities are divided among three scopes that Miami must consider under the PCLC. Scope one considers carbon sources that are owned by the University and emit on-site, scope two considers carbon sources that are owned by the University and emit off-site, and scope three considers the expanse of emissions that the University doesn’t control or emit directly, but nevertheless contributes to. In the coming years, Miami will place a strong emphasis on scope two emission sources, though emissions from all three scopes will be assesed.
Using these three scopes, how will Miami actually go about reaching a state of carbon neutrality, and what will that look like? Carbon neutrality is a complex concept, with different implications. However, for Miami’s situation, Dr. Levy and Dr. Sizemore both stress that an emphasis will be placed on reduction of carbon emissions first, with the purchasing of carbon offsets as a second resort. Not only is this a more financially feasible solution in the long-run, but it reduces the need to go through third party entities to purchase carbon credits.
Likewise, with its Utility Master Plan, Miami is already on a remarkable trajectory of slashing its carbon “footprint” year after year, as indicated by extensive data and calculations. Between 2008 and 2019, with the implementation of geothermal heating and cooling and improvements in energy efficiencies, campus carbon emissions dropped by 37 percent. By 2026, Oxford campus energy use is expected to drop an additional 23 percent, 41 percent lower than 2008 levels.
Not only does this exemplify the ways Miami has “long pioneered in the transformations of energy systems” according to President Gregory Crawford, but it prepares the University for continued reduction of carbon emissions. Over the next seven years, Miami projects a 42 percent reduction in on-campus fossil fuel contributions from our 2019 carbon emissions levels, which represents a striking 62 percent reduction from the 2008 levels.
Miami’s ongoing sustainability efforts are part of the greater “responsibility” that Dr. Levy claims universities have to address issues of climate change and environmental resilience. While the target date for when Miami will “achieve” climate neutrality isn’t officially set yet, Dr. Levy encourages the University to be as ambitious as possible. A large part of this momentum will be generated from the student body, who holds the potential to encourage the administration to continue prioritizing sustainability initiatives.
For students looking to get more involved with carbon neutrality goals on campus, Tuesday’s PCLC signing will open up a myriad of opportunities. One student will have the unique opportunity to be the student representative on the Executive Steering Committee of the Carbon Action Task Force. The application will be found on the Miami University Sustainability website, and will likely be posted in October. There will also be opportunities to work alongside Miami faculty and staff by joining subcommittees under this Executive Steering Committee. Miami also supports a host of green organizations for students to get involved with; the details for each can be found on the HUB.
In conclusion, embedded in today’s momentous signature is the promise of a future of arduous dedication to climate justice at Miami University. With a history of preceding sustainability initiatives and the support of passionate experts like Dr. Levy and Dr. Sizemore, Miami University looks forward to the opportunities for innovation that the PCLC will bring.
Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Dr. Adam Sizemore
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