Commentary: A new approach to global climate change

Global climate change is arguably the most pressing issue facing the world today.

Northeastern students are well aware of the urgency of the problem and have formed the Huskies’ Energy Action Team (H.E.A.T.), dedicated to decreasing Northeastern’s greenhouse gas emissions. Northeastern has already made great strides in implementing sustainable energy practices. For example, the Facilities, Purchasing, and Capital Projects Departments have recently formed the NU Sustainability Committee. Another step forward is the recent approval of purchasing biodiesel in place of diesel, the installation of a metering system that enables the university to measure electricity use in each campus building separately, the installation of high-efficiency lighting and the presence of a 22-kW solar array on the roof of the Curry Student Center.

Student support for such measures is strong and deep, as evidenced by H.E.A.T.’s wildly successful kick-off week, which culminated in a showing of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that drew 180 attendees. H.E.A.T. applauds such great progress and enthusiasm, and encourages Northeastern to take the next step by developing a timeline to achieve complete carbon neutrality (that is, to reduce its contributions to global warming to zero).

As a step toward this goal, H.E.A.T. encourages Northeastern to commit to purchasing 100 percent of Northeastern’s electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Should Northeastern embrace these goals, it will be on the leading edge of a trend sweeping the nation – Central Oregon Community College and a dozen other schools are shifting to 100 percent renewable energy this year. Connecticut College has committed to purchasing 44 percent wind power, and the University of California, Berkeley, has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Here in Massachusetts, Executive Order No. 438 sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gases emitted from state agencies, including colleges, by 25 percent by 2012. Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner has already reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 22.73 percent in just four years.

In February, UMass Lowell announced it will begin purchasing 13 percent of its electricity from wind power. The purchase garnered positive press and a grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to continue the university’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Campus climate neutrality is not just for hippies anymore – MTV has developed a “Break the Addiction Challenge,” offering $5,000 to two schools for achieving 100 percent clean energy policies, and $10,000 to two schools who go the furthest and fastest to reduce their global warming pollution to zero. If we, as a nation and beyond, fail to act promptly, we will find ourselves in a world with severe food and water shortages, massive displacement of people, more extreme and variable weather systems, ecosystem damage, increased species extinctions, and increased prevalence of tropical diseases. Moreover, it is those with the least political and economic power in our society who will be most profoundly impacted.

The climate neutrality movement sweeping U.S. colleges and universities has the potential to push the envelope of what is considered possible, leading this country and the world toward a sustainable future. As undergraduate, graduate, and law students here at Northeastern, we feel the university is well positioned to become a leader in this movement. We, the members of H.E.A.T., would like to help Northeastern University fulfill its potential. Please join us.

– Kat Rickenbacker is a graduate student writing on behalf of the Huskies’ Energy Action Team (H.E.A.T.)

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