Departments, individuals fight climate change

Wednesday’s News’ View (“Sustainable solutions lie in lab, not lights”) claimed that Yale’s role in slowing global climate change should primarily be to research and discover new technologies, rather than to take action on our own campus to reduce institutional emissions. These two goals are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually reinforcing.

The fact that Yale has reduced energy consumption by 17.3 percent this academic year over 2004-2005 consumption levels — as reported on the front page of yesterday’s News — is due in no small part to President Levin’s commitment to reduce Yale’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. It was Levin’s “political move” that led to “practical action” by students, staff and faculty. It is an institutional commitment to both short- and long-term goals that encourages innovation and creativity in reducing energy demand.

True, we need to encourage more professors to develop new technologies, though these efforts need not be limited to the Environmental Engineering Department, as the editorial suggested. All fields of science and engineering need to be involved, and students can be as involved in these efforts as the professors who teach them. In my four years at Yale, I have seen many innovative projects come out of student research, including converting our dining halls’ vegetable oil into biodiesel and improving the efficiency of our steam tunnels.

We must look outside of the physical sciences as well, and encourage other departments — such as Economics, Ecology, Political Science and International Studies — to consider how innovations in their fields can have an impact on climate change. As a research institution, we have a responsibility to look beyond our campus walls; we must address the problem of energy demand in developing countries.

Such research can and should continue while we pursue local action. President Levin himself has given us one major reason: Our institution can effect national change. “We cannot wait for our governments to act, though they must if the problem is to be ultimately solved,” Levin told the Yale Bulletin. “Large organizations all over the world with the power to act independently should take matters into their own hands and begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Moreover, Yale’s position as an educational institution gives the University an even greater responsibility in taking practical action on our own campus and demonstrating a short- and long-term commitment to greenhouse-gas reductions. Yale students will become leaders in policy, business and public service. They will take the lessons learned both in and out of the classroom into their future lives and work. If Yale cannot teach its students to be conscious of their own impact on greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change, we will have failed in one of the major educational responsibilities of this century.

What better way to teach than by example? By committing to institutional reductions, we can encourage innovation from both professors and students, while reminding students to consider that we each have a role and responsibility in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Levin has already committed the University to an impressive short-term target for emissions reductions; it is time to make a longer-term commitment.

To set us on a manageable course for achieving climate neutrality in the long term, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, the Yale College Council and hundreds of student signatories are petitioning President Levin to commit to a mid-term goal of 80 percent reductions in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by the year 2050. This is the global goal that scientists have predicted would still lead to a doubling of our carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and a two-degree increase in our global temperatures. We must meet and surpass this goal as a nation and a planet, and we must start here on campus.

A long-term goal will allow us to use our university’s greatest strength; as explained by the News’ View, we must utilize the creativity and innovation of our professors, students and staff to develop solutions to climate change. It is crucial that we develop the technologies and processesto save the world, but we must first use our own campus as a demonstration.

Caroline Howe is a senior in Saybrook College. She is a environmental- and mechanical-engineering major.

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