As climate change issues become more prevalent locally and globally, experts suggest collective action towards reaching a 45% net reduction of emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. Net zero emissions means that the amount of carbon produced is the same amount being taken out of the atmosphere. In order to reach this ambitious climate goal, everyone needs to partake in the fight for not just clean air, but climate justice, sustainability and climate accountability. In response, 1,050 universities and colleges globally committed to net zero emissions by 2050 at the Glasgow Higher Education Climate Forum on Oct. 28, 2021. However, many argue that the 2050 target lacks the ambition necessary to compete with global goals for reducing emissions. For example, many universities, including the University of Connecticut, have yet to submit an interim target for outside organizations to assess their progress. UConn should commit to an ambitious plan to decarbonize the campus and stop relying on fossil fuels for energy.
Outside organizations such as the Sierra Club have affirmed UConn’s status as a green school, citing new energy efficient buildings and refillable water bottle stations. Further accolades and awards are outlined by the Office of Sustainability on the university’s website. As an example of one such accolade, UConn was awarded platinum status by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). This award was given for various reasons such as UConn’s curriculum, campus engagement and water usage. These titles are surely important, however they show only minor actions that greenwash over larger issues. For example, UConn’s energy usage, financial investments and buildings all get low ratings by the AASHE. Furthermore, UConn has yet to tackle its massive carbon footprint of 100,000 metric tons yearly. It’s also important to note that UConn has made some progress in this regard – reducing emissions by 21% since 2007 according to the President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment (PWGSE). Although progress has been made, there is still far to go to reach the goal of net-zero emissions. The board of trustees has yet to implement an ambitious and clear plan towards reaching these goals.
One huge cause for concern is the Central Utility Plant (CUP) or Cogeneration Facility, which uses fossil fuels as a source of energy. The university’s website paints the CUP as sustainable by providing a pro-environment section and claiming the plant saves 30,000 CO2 emissions per year in comparison to the regional energy grid. However, the website fails to mention the amount of emissions the plant produces. In comparison, when reading the PWGSE, one realizes the importance of replacing the CUP with a regenerative energy source. Switching to renewables not only reduces emissions but also fights the adverse effects of fossil fuels such as sea level rises, water pollution, mining risks and increased health risks. Furthermore, there is evidence that the social costs of CO2 emissions for future generations have been underestimated, increasing from $51 per metric tonne of CO2 emissions to $185 per tonne of CO2. Therefore, switching to renewable energy is more important now than ever before.
Every voice on UConn’s campus matters in our fight to decarbonize the university. When we come together in passion, awareness and persistence, our capabilities are boundless. Climate issues don’t just affect future generations, they are already impacting our lives. If we don’t act soon, these issues will continue to grow. Students should care about these issues, as we pay to attend the university and can fight for where our tuition is going. Furthermore, Huskies take pride in their school and we should fight to compete with comparable universities making strides toward net zero carbon emissions. On Nov. 4, 2022, there is a climate rally to encourage the administration to take stronger action by implementing the Zero Carbon 2040 plan outlined in the PWGSE and decommission the Co-Generation Plant on-campus. Show up for your Husky family and future Husky generations by attending the rally on the Student Union lawn. After the rally, the work doesn’t stop – students can continue to fight for the climate after the rally by participating in environmental clubs on campus, setting an example with individual sustainable actions and continuing to advocate for climate action. One of my favorite quotes by an environmental activist on Youtube, Shelbizleee, is, “Do your best and advocate for the rest”. As a community, we can emphasize to the university that student voices matter, and the climate does too.