Scientists’ Warning Reminds Us of the Importance of Our Work, Topics for March Climate Action Planning Blogs Announced
By Walter Simpson, Retired UB Energy Officer
Hello Campus Climateers!
Like you, I receive a lot of information on climate change. It's hard to read everything which comes my way. But every now and then an article's headline makes it impossible to ignore. That's how I reacted to a February 15th article in the Washington Post by Kari Lydersen entitled "Scientists: Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates."
The article discusses remarks made by climate scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University is quoted as saying, "We are basically looking now at a future climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously in climate model simulations." Why? It's apparently the result of increased coal-burning in developing countries. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions since 2000 are outpacing the estimates used in the 2007 Fourth Assessment by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
As GHG emissions climb and additional warming occurs, positive feedback loops which have very negative effects kick in. The article notes that as the Arctic permafrost begins to melt, vast quantities of carbon dioxide and methane may be released – causing further warming, melting, and releasing of these gases. Warmer weather is also fueling stronger winds that are exposing deeper layers of ocean water which cannot absorb carbon dioxide readily because they are already carbon saturated. And, as ocean water becomes more acidic as a result of absorbing carbon dioxide, its ability to absorb more carbon dioxide is diminished.
The article contains more bad news. For example, hotter, dryer forests burn more easily and more often, thus releasing all the carbon which was sequestered in the trees into the atmosphere as well as eliminating a future carbon sink, namely, the trees themselves. Scientists at the AAAS meeting called for stronger action to preserve still viable tropical forests – now unfortunately being rapidly converted into livestock pasture and (ironically) crop land to grow soy for biofuels.
When I read this kind of information, it motivates me to work harder to do what I can to help put the brakes on climate change. I try to balance out the negative with the positive.
What positive, you say?! The positive embodied in my belief that by working individually and with others I can make difference. Also, I believe that with our new leadership we will soon see meaningful action on climate change in the U.S. Congress and on all levels of government. There is a lot to be hopeful about. We are at the cusp of a big change, and none too soon.
I also feel hopeful, and think you should feel that way too, when I contemplate the important work that you and a great many others are doing developing climate neutrality plans and actually reducing the carbon footprints of your campuses. Please don't forget that your work has a huge multiplier effect. Leadership by your school will inspire action by others. Also, by involving students in the effort – and by infusing sustainability into the curriculum and offering them an environmentally relevant academic experience – you are helping to prepare future graduates who will go on to be a big part of the solution. The importance of this should not be under-estimated.
For my weekly climate action planning blogs, March is going to be campus energy conservation month! Here are the topics I plan to cover:
- Developing a comprehensive campus energy program
- Energy conservation: low cost/no cost operational savings
- Tackling the big energy conservation opportunities on your campus
- Getting the most out of an energy performance contract
I know many schools have done a lot in the energy conservation area while others are just getting started. I will try to provide some guidance and suggestions that will help schools in both categories to go further. Of course, I welcome not only your feedback but also your suggestions on what to include as I entertain these discussions. If you have a campus energy conservation success story, please let me know. If you tried something and it didn't work or backfired, I am interested in hearing about that too -- and I will promise, if you like, not to mention your school if I discuss that topic.
In case you missed any of the blogs I wrote in January and February, they are still posted on the AASHE site. They were:
- Important, Yes! But No One Should Have Said Achieving Climate Neutrality Was Going to be Easy
- Excellent Climate Action Planning Resources Abound
- Creating an Institutional Structure for Your Climate Action Plan
- Energizing Your CAP Team + Tips on Hiring a Consultant
- Calculating Your Campus Carbon Footprint: It's Not as Hard as You Think
- What to Expect from Your GHG Inventory & How to Maximize Its Benefit
As always, please let me know where you need help with you climate action plan or process.
Good to be working with you!
Walter Simpson, CEM, LEED AP, retired 26 year University at Buffalo Energy Officer and director of UB Green, is working with AASHE and the American College & University President's Commitment to develop a climate action plan wiki which is expected to be initially posted in March 2009.
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