Within the next two weeks, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition will approach University administrators with a petition calling for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.
The administration has already committed to reducing University greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and activists believe a more long-term commitment is both viable and necessary. But Yale President Richard Levin said the University needs to focus on its short-term commitments, particularly because technologies are changing rapidly.
YSEC co-chair Micah Ziegler ’08 said while the administration’s present goals were admirable, something more needs to be done.
“We have the money, initiative and foresight to make these long-term goals,” he said. “I believe there is the time and price for a longer-term commitment.”
Ziegler said it was necessary for the University to commit to lower greenhouse gas emissions not only to contribute toward a greener campus but also to set an example for college campuses across the country.
“Every school has different constraints,” Ziegler said, “You need to set the standard high to make the goal.”
But Levin said it is difficult to make plans for the long-term future, considering that technological advances can be hard to predict.
“It’s a hard thing to commit to because we have no idea what technology might come about,” he said. “The technology will undoubtedly be better. That’s a laudable goal, it’s just not very operational. We have to get to 2020 first; then we can plan for 2050.”
Alice Shyy ’08, a student director for the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership, agreed that the issue merited attention. Shyy said the petition is “very aggressive.”
“I’m curious to see what Levin and the administration will have to say about it,” she said.
Shyy said the commitment proposed by YSEC might be hard for the University to realize. In particular, Shyy said, the plans for residential college renovations and the possible addition of two new colleges use a great amount of energy.
Shyy described the University’s Office of Sustainability — run by director Julie Newman — as “very active,” and said that if YSEC were “doing this correctly, Julie will be on board with it.”
Newman was unavailable for comment.
Lisa Curran, a professor in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said while YSEC’s goal was a worthy one, she believes more information is necessary about the quantity of Yale’s emissions now compared to 1990. It is important to take into consideration the economic implications of any sort of plans as well, Curran said.
Though some students seemed confident about potential change from the administration, other students said they are not as sure. Though he agrees that the University could do more, Raj Persaud ’10 expressed concerns about the University’s ability to commit to such an ambitious goal.
“I’m sort of skeptical as to how much Yale can achieve,” he said.
Persaud said whether or not the administration is willing to attempt the initiatives outlined in the petition, individual students’ actions will affect the University’s ability to meet those goals.
“Not many kids seem to care about how much energy they use,” Persaud said. “Awareness is needed. Your own awareness of [the situation] can be motivating.”
Last year, Yale’s residential college energy consumption fell by 10 percent, exceeding student environmental activists’ goal by 5 percent. As a result, the University doubled the amount of renewable energy it purchased as a reward for conservation.