University commits to climate action

By AMY HAN
For The News-Letter

University President Ronald J. Daniels signed the White House Act on Climate Pledge on Tuesday that various student groups and University offices have developed over the past few weeks.
The pledge outlines the University’s environmental commitments and reaffirms its goal to expedite campus development toward a low-carbon energy system in support of the upcoming 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) that will be held in Paris, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Goals include reducing institutional greenhouse gas emissions to 51 percent below the University’s 2008 emission levels by 2025; reducing energy consumption across campuses and facilities; increasing energy efficiency; implementing programs for sustainability education and engagement; encouraging research on climate change, public health, energy and sustainability; and sustaining community-based projects and programs that improve institutional sustainability in conjunction with the city of Baltimore.

JHU Students for Environmental Action (SEA), an environmental advocacy group, along with various Hopkins organizations and individuals sent emails to Daniels, urging him to sign a pledge specific to Hopkins to join the White House’s efforts.

The other parties supporting the letter include the Student Government Association Executive Board, Hopkins College Democrats, the President of College Republicans Nitin Nainani, Refugee Action Project, Johns Hopkins Outdoors Club (JHOC), Professor Ben Hobbs of the Environment, Energy, Sustainability & Health Institute (E2SHI), Sustainable Hopkins Infrastructure Program (SHIP),Refuel Our Future, JHU Take Back The Tap, Real Food Hopkins and the Alliance for Clean Water.

President of SEA Nikita Singh, a senior, heard about the opportunity from the White House Council on Environmental Quality to discuss sustainability goals and their implementation from Ashley Pennington, the Program Manager for Hopkins’ Office of Sustainability.

“This pledge is going to go the White House, and it’s going to be included in their event on the 19th,” Singh said. “I think the best thing that this will do is that it will reconnect the Office of Sustainability to the President’s Office and give more fuel to what they’re working on, and it will create an easier way for communication. Now that Ronny D has signed this pledge, he has to actually follow up on it.”

Singh assembled the draft of Hopkins’ pledge using information from past environmental reports, and Pennington reviewed it.

“Basically what they’re doing is to try to get these institutions to come together and talk about what they’re doing at their universities to mitigate climate change, what can they can improve, and basically just have a conversation and get ideas from other institutions,” Singh said. “I think it’s also a step to help universities remember what their climate goals are, and that’s part of what the point of the pledge was, to reaffirm that we have these goals already. It’s just a matter of talking about them again.”

Singh outlined the process behind securing Daniel’s signing of the pledge, citing existing Hopkins organizations as the key contributors.

“We have the President’s Task Force on Climate Change. In their reports, they came up with things the University can be doing to further our climate goals. I pulled goals from there. Then Ashley was able to update [the pledge] with kind of what’s currently happening,” Singh said. “I drafted the pledge, drafted the email and then was able to reach out to a bunch of student organizations that would be interested and got a lot of responses, which was really exciting.”

After the emails were sent to Daniels, the President’s Office, the Office of Sustainability, the Office of Government & Community Affairs and the Office of Communications finalized the pledge for him to consider.
Singh said that she was pleased with the pledge, despite its lack of concrete details.

“There are a few points in the pledge about having campus awareness and education on there, which is obviously in line with what SEA does. If the school could just stick to their greenhouse gas emissions goal, that would be really, really exciting,” Singh said. “In the original pledge, there was something about investigating our transportation on campus to see what are the environmental effects of that. And I can understand that that got lumped into the overarching greenhouse gas emissions goal, but it would have been cool if they had that specific idea in there.”

Senior Mengli Shi has been involved with environmental groups at Hopkins since her freshman year. She currently co-leads Take Back the Tap and SHIP. She has also worked with the Office of Sustainability during her four years at Hopkins.

“I first heard about it through Nikita [Singh] ,and she put together the whole email and the pledge and then contacted all the group members,” Shi said. “This is a great way to show that universities in the U.S. are supporting [international] climate goals, and thus the White House can show this when they go to Paris. I was happy that President Daniels agreed to confirm his pledge. It was a good publicity thing for Daniels to approve.”

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