Let’s start with a well-established fact: climate neutrality is imperative by 2050. If we do not curb carbon emissions by that admittedly-arbitrary date, then we will likely be unable to avoid a two-degrees Celsius rise in global temperature, which would be accompanied by “severe pervasive, and in some cases irreversable detrimental impacts,” as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report indicated. The leaders of every single country in the world — besides ours — have agreed on that point by signing the Paris Climate Accords, so it is a pretty big deal.
Now, let’s zoom back to EMU. When I arrived here in the fall of 2014, the world had 36 years left until it reached that 2050 threshold. Now, on the eve of 2018, we have just 32. Using this metric, my four years here at EMU represented just over 11 percent of the time the world had between 2014 and 2050, or 11 percent of our time allotted to becoming carbon-neutral.
Of course, that figure assumes that 2014 was the starting point, which is not true — people were working on responses to climate change long before I got here as a first-year. So let’s assign our starting date to be the year 2000, the turn of the century. In that case, my college career still represents eight percent of the time it should take us to become carbon-neutral. Not insignificant.
In light of this, let’s take a look at the progress we have made as an institution during my time here, the four-year period from 2014 to 2018.
Theoretically, EMU should have made cuts to our carbon emissions roughly equal to 10 percent during that time, if we intend on meeting a goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Let’s look at EMU’s major changes during my time as a student.
Since 2014, we have: drafted and approved a Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2015; drafted and failed to approve a Full-Cost Pricing Proposal; committed to building a second, larger solar array, but failed to build it; committed to building a natural gas generator, and succeeded in building it.
I hope I am not the only one unimpressed with this list. But here is the kicker: in EMU’s case, that arbitrary 2050 date is not our goal at all.
In fact, the CAP — which, I may remind you, has already been approved — commits us to achieving climate neutrality by 2035, a mere 18 years from now. Of the timeframe between 2015 and 2035, what is the equivalent representative of my college career? 20 percent. That’s right: in 20 percent of the time we have allotted ourselves to meet our goal — an entire fifth — this is how much we have accomplished.
It is possible that I am wrong about what I perceive to be a lack of adherence to the CAP. However, among other things, the CAP calls for a 20 percent reduction in overall electricity usage, a 20 percent reduction in potable water usage, a 15 percent reduction in commuter emissions, and a 15 percent reduction in grounds-related fuel usage — all by 2020. Honestly, I highly doubt those types of reductions are actively being made.
It is possible that there are plenty of things happening beneath the surface, moving us in the right direction; but if this is the case, then EMU has a lot of work to do with transparency. If a long-time leader of the “save the planet” club on campus cannot find out how we are doing with our CAP, how is that information expected to be accessible to anyone else?
If we had an active Sustainability Coordinator on campus, I could ask him or her, since it is part of that job description to report on carbon emission reductions. Unfortunately, that position is currently unoccupied, with seemingly no definite plans to fill it. If those types of reductions are, in fact, being made, then I would love to be proven wrong with my analysis, but it is likely that no one will because EMU is not paying anyone to track and report those changes.
EMU, it is time to step up our game. We have not quite fallen off of our plan — we still have three years to accomplish our 2020 CAP goals — but we need to start moving, right now. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
My brother is a first-year here at EMU and is a member of the class of 2021. Will EMU have met its 2020 goals by the time he graduates? Or will EMU by then have failed to meet its own standards and lose its standing as a leader in sustainability? He, I, and the rest of the student body will be watching.