Schools can lead in tackling energy challenge

When talking about the ways that energy conservation and sustainable energy can be promoted, people often split the world into a simple binary: the public and the government. This split neglects the fact that businesses and large institutions have a central place in influencing policy and lifestyle choices and that innovative solutions to environmental problems often come from this area.

As members of the Yale community we are part of an organization whose prestige, wealth and base of creative minds can be a blessing for leading the way in creating sustainable energy programs in Connecticut. Ann Marie Gaul (“Climate Campaign works on environment at state level” 11/11) spoke of the action that is currently being taken at the state government level. A major principle behind the campaign that is encouraging our state government to create a strong Climate Action Plan is that government has more power than simply the ability to mandate or legislate. The government can lead by example, and the secondary effects of strong state action will be a powerful engine toward reducing our energy footprint across the region. Government action can provide expanding markets for green vehicles, renewable energy providers and other new technologies while acting as a clear model for other states, businesses and individuals.

It is clear that, in many ways, Yale’s influence, and the example it can set, could be even more potent. If Yale were to say, for example, that it were adopting a broad-based plan for switching over to 20 percent renewable energy use by 2020, other schools across the country would sit up and take notice. Yale could be the ideal laboratory for implementing a new energy regime.

Our human and information resources are outstanding. Professor Arnulf Grubler’s class at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is currently doing an inventory of Yale’s emissions, so the size of the problem, something unmeasured at many schools, will soon be clear. We have the dedication and expertise of the students and faculty of the environment school in general, the work of bodies like the provost’s standing committee the Advisory Committee on Environmental Management and the support of people like Deputy Director of Facilities Roberto Meinrath, who has made reducing Yale’s energy use a priority.

Recently the administration even seems to be interested in working toward better energy use at Yale. This past summer, the New England Board of Higher Education and Connecticut Governor John Rowland sent all the schools in Connecticut letters asking them to show “support for the goals of the regional Climate Change Action Plan [by making] energy reductions and environmental improvements on your campus.” Yale signed on to the letter.

The question now is if Yale is willing to take its commitment farther and actively make a plan for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use on our campus. Over the past three weeks, members of the Ivy League Environmental Coalition, a network of the Ivy League’s student environmental groups, have been working to draft an energy resolution for all eight Ivy League universities. This resolution calls for each university to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, implement a concrete energy-conservation initiative, and purchase 15 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources by 2010. The resolution also lists a number of energy and cost saving programs on both the institutional and student level that have successfully been adopted at different Ivy League schools.

The Ivy Council, an organization of the Ivy League student governments, is scheduled to vote on the resolution this Saturday, during its fall conference here at Yale. At the same time, students from the Yale Climate Campaign, a chapter of a network representing students at 60 schools across the Northeast, are asking Yale to sign on to the Campus Climate Pledge. By signing this on to this pledge, Yale would be making a commitment to work on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, 10 percent below these levels by 2020 and 75 to 85 percent below current levels by mid-century.

With these two complementary opportunities, Yale has the chance to focus its stated intentions and its resources into a concrete plan. But Yale doesn’t have to go it alone. The entire Ivy League will hopefully collectively endorse the resolution this weekend, and campus administrations across the Northeast are looking into signing on to the Campus Climate Pledge. Some smaller schools have boldly and successfully staged energy revolutions. Connecticut College is currently offsetting 45 percent of its energy use by paying for energy production at a Kansas wind farm. They have had a positive impact on how schools see the feasibility of buying renewable energy and reducing the impact of it greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine if Yale did something of this magnitude.

Simply looking at the impact of Yale’s Sustainable Food Initiative shows that we can have a tremendous impact on other schools when we combine the student, faculty and staff’s innovative ideas with resources and administrative support. If Yale commits to a plan to reduce its emissions and use more renewable energy, we will not only be a healthier, more cost-effective institution, Yale can also be an inspiration for other schools, institutions and individuals as they tackle the energy challenges of our time.



Jack Dafoe is a senior in Morse College. He is a member of the Yale Climate Campaign.

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