KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is reinvigorating efforts to respond to and offset the impacts of climate change. Amid increasing concern from scientists around the world, the University's Carbon Neutrality Committee is getting to work evaluating Western's existing climate commitments and actions to potentially accelerate goals.
"Western was early out of the gate to aggressively attack the climate change problem. We had one of the first climate action plans and commitments to carbon neutrality (in higher education)," says Jeff Spoelstra, co-host of the committee and director of Western's Office of Sustainability. "Now it's time to revisit that and assess the science and recommend the next steps in our work."
Western's current Climate Action Plan commits to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2065. Dr. Jennifer Bott, provost and vice president for academic affairs, charged the Carbon Neutrality Committee with considering whether it is feasible to achieve the goal by 2050, with a commitment to cut the University's carbon footprint in half by 2030.
"We are already recognized for many really great sustainability and climate actions," says Dr. Denise Keele, committee co-host and chair of the Climate Change Working Group at Western. "It puts us in a leadership role, and it's our responsibility in higher education to be the kind of leader to address this issue head-on. We can take actions that matter here for us and our community, and that's really the driving force."
The emergence of COVID-19 has illuminated an intersectionality between the pandemic and the climate crisis.
"We're in this grand experiment now with each other, and these issues are interrelated. I really see this as a new-awakening alignment with our values and a true opportunity," she says, highlighting infrastructure and operational changes that have already led to reduced emissions on a smaller scale, such as hibernating buildings on Western's campus. "It's really opened our minds to think about what's on the table."
The Carbon Neutrality Committee includes an array of faculty, staff and students from across campus to draw on the broad expertise and experience of the University community. Initial work in subcommittees will focus on greenhouse gas emissions tracking, emissions reduction opportunities, creative funding strategies, communications and student involvement.
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