Joining the efforts of hundreds of other universities and colleges, Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis has approved a "Climate Action Plan" for OU with hopes that the university will reach carbon neutrality by 2075.
A student group concerned about the environment, however, maintains that while the action is welcome, its deadline is way too far in the future to have much practical effect on climate change. "The pledge kicks the can down the road until it's too late," contended graduate student Philip Wight," a founding member of Fossil Free OU, an organization dedicated to ending Ohio University's reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels.
The OU Climate Action Plan was formally approved by McDavis on Nov. 28, according to a university press release. Initially developed by the Presidential Advisory Council for Sustainability Planning (PACSP), the release said, the execution of the Climate Action Plan marks a conscious effort by the university to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – its carbon emissions
The PACSP conceived the Climate Action Plan as a continuation of the Sustainability Plan, another Advisory Council document approved in summer 2011. The framework of both documents was developed in accordance with the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which President McDavis signed in 2007.
The ACUPCC is a collaborative effort by the leaders of higher education institutions to "address global climate disruption" and eliminate campus carbon emissions. More than 600 institutions of higher education have pledged their support to the commitment, and two-thirds of those institutions have developed their own Climate Action Plans.
"While growth is necessary for institutions of higher education to thrive in the current economic climate, we must support those measures by recognizing our role as stewards of this community and the greater environment," President McDavis said in a recent press release. He also stressed the significance of achieving carbon neutrality as part of that responsibility.
To achieve carbon neutrality by 2075, the PASCP devised a series of potential strategies in areas such as energy, transportation and waste reduction. The strategies featured in the Climate Action Plan vary in scope, ranging from implementing a recommended tree-to-asphalt ratio, to retrofitting the university's Lausche Heating Plant as a 100 percent natural gas burning facility.
Although the Climate Action Plan establishes a number of measures to support its goal of carbon neutrality, the changes required to meet that goal are not limited to campus renovations, according to OU Director of Sustainability Annie Laurie Cadmus.
"It will require a cultural shift, a shift that encourages us to deeply value human interaction and interdependency," Cadmus said in a press release. She explained that every member of the community will be asked to evaluate the environmental impact of his or her lifestyle choices.
In order to more easily manage its primary 2075 goal, OU's Climate Action Plan breaks its implementation down into four phases. Each phase lays out specific goals and benchmarks, all designed to integrate with existing institutional objectives. One goal, for instance, requires a 25 percent carbon emission reduction by 2032.
Despite the many changes called for by the Climate Action Plan, some student environmentalists are concerned about effectiveness of the plan and the practicality of its deadline.
"The (Climate Action Plan) is a good first step toward addressing OU's necessary commitment to combat climate change and educate a generation of future leaders," Wight of Fossil Free OU conceded, though he added that the timeline is just too stretched out to do much good.
Wight maintains that an environmental "tipping point" is drawing too rapidly near for the plan to be effective – possibly as early as 2020.
A recent report by the U.N. Environment Programme warns that Earth is undergoing changes at an unprecedented pace, but makes no mention of a date by which global climate damage would be irreparable. "As human pressures on the Earth system accelerate, several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded," the report states.
In addition to concerns about OU's Climate Action Plan, Wight points to Benchmark 21 in the university's Sustainability Plan, noting a revision from October 2011 that removes all planned screenings of negative OU investments. Negative investments include unsustainable fossil fuels, according to Wight.
Now that planning is over, the PACSP has delegated oversight of the Climate Action Plan to OU's Ecology and Energy Conservation Committee (EECC).
The EECC has teamed with the Office of Sustainability as well as SOUL (Sustainable Ohio University Leaders) to implement the plan. Phase One of the Climate Action Plan is scheduled to conclude in fall 2018.
The OU Climate Action Plan is available for inspection online.