Gorgeous spring weather like yesterday’s can often make it hard to believe that climate change poses a significant problem, but any environmentalist would tell you that global warming is one of today’s greatest environmental challenges.
While students and faculty alike enjoyed the sun, inside Sage Hall a group from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies presented its findings about how Yale contributes to this problem.
The Yale Climate Initiative presented the results of the Yale Greenhouse Gas Inventory Project to over 50 concerned environmentalists Thursday afternoon. The Greenhouse Gas Inventory Project measured the amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly by the University and members of its community. The Initiative found that Yale produces approximately the same amount of greenhouse gases per year as the Cayman Islands or the Central African Republic.
Marco Buttazzoni FES ’04 said there is a strong connection between greenhouse gases and climate change.
“Basically the school emits 290,000 tons of emissions each year,” he added.
In addition to measuring emissions, the group compared its findings to inventories taken at similar institutions. They found that each Yalie produces about 13 tons of carbon dioxide per year, while each student at Tufts University in Massachusetts produces approximately two tons each year. The inventory grouped the emissions into three basic categories based on mode of production: the energy needed to power campus buildings, transportation, and other gases and sequestration. The group found that 82 percent of Yale’s emissions comes from the energy powering buildings, Buttazzoni said.
Woon Kwong Liew FES ’04, explained that 10 percent of the University’s buildings account for 58 percent of its energy consumption, noting that many with high electricity use were medical school buildings and other laboratories. He suggested improvements to overall energy consumption could be achieved by targeting these buildings, but stressed that change had to come from within the Yale community.
“Although reductions can be made on the supply side, reductions should be made on the demand side based on how these buildings are used,” Liew said.
The transportation category measured the greenhouse gas emitted by university vehicles in their everyday use as well as by student travel to and from New Haven. Kate Zyla FES ’04 explained that while this category was the most difficult to measure, it added to the accuracy of the report because transportation is not usually taken into account by greenhouse gas inventories. Other sources of greenhouse gas emissions included solid waste, refrigerants, and lab gases.
The inventory also took into account the greenhouse gases taken out of the air by Yale-owned forests. The university properties in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont mitigate emissions by only two percent. To demonstrate the magnitude of Yale’s emissions, Elizabeth Martin FES ’04 said the University would have to reforest an area of land almost as large as Rhode Island to offset its total emissions for 2002, the year the inventory was conducted.
Nine environment school students constitute the Yale Climate Initiative. The Inventory, which they conducted as a class last semester, is the first greenhouse gas inventory to be done for Yale. The inventory did not include any concrete policy recommendations for decreasing the University’s emissions, Martin said, but added that the group hoped to see future inventories which could be used to improve Yale’s environmental impact.
“Relatively minor systems and process changes could significantly improve Yale’s ability to inventory GHG emissions,” Martin said. “And that’s something we’d really like to see happen in the future.”