Signing on to save the earth

University Presidents Climate Commitment represents an opportunity for real change

Members of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change meet yesterday at 11 Aberdeen Street.
Members of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change meet yesterday at 11 Aberdeen Street.
Aaron Myran, ArtSci ’09
Aaron Myran, ArtSci ’09

Many of you consider yourselves environmentally conscious members of the Queen’s community. You turn off lights, walk everywhere and are educated about the causes of global climate change. But, for the majority of you, everything that you have done is not enough to prevent this looming global disaster. The scope of this issue is so large and the window of opportunity is so small that only large-scale policy change can have an impact at this point. While it is important to educate individuals about sustainable practices, it is simply not enough. However, an option for real change is available to you and to Queen’s right now, where we can create lasting change that will mitigate climate change and spring Queen’s into the forefront of the environmental movement. We need to sign the University Presidents Climate Commitment (UPCC).

The UPCC mandates that post-secondary institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of carbon neutrality. In addition, the UPCC mandates the promotion of research and educational initiatives on campus to foster further sustainability and awareness. Through implementing environmental education into the core curriculum at Queen’s, each graduating student will have a better understanding of environmental issues. Such educational additions will promote responsible environmental stewardship and allow individuals to take a more active role in mitigating global climate change. Furthermore, by signing the UPCC, post-secondary institutions create a step-by-step plan to reduce their greenhouse gasses that can be put into action immediately. Signing the UPCC is the most important step that Queen’s can make towards planning for a sustainable future. Queen’s would not be alone in signing the UPCC. As of today, 588 universities and colleges in the United States have signed the commitment along with all universities in British Columbia. In addition, both the University of Ottawa and Lakehead University plan on signing the UPCC this year. This initiative is not just for universities that already have a strong and active sustainability movement. Many universities with little or no previous sustainable accomplishments, but interested in decreasing their environmental impact, have signed the UPCC as it gives both benchmarks and long-term plans for success. The UPCC has been signed by a variety of universities with different sizes and budgets.

By signing the UPCC, Queen’s can also be held accountable for its environmental impact. Part of the commitment is that universities agree to do a complete assessment of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the first year that the contract went into effect. By signing the commitment, we can know exactly where our university stands in terms of contributing to climate change and where the university needs to go. Without performing an accurate and public assessment, there is no way for our university to know what kind of role it is playing in our climate crisis. Furthermore, addressing a greenhouse gas emissions problem at our university would surely contribute to our reputation for being proactive in addressing such an important issue.

Apart from furthering Queen’s reputation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and demonstrating accountability to the students and faculty demanding action on climate change, the UPCC gives Queen’s an amazing fiscal opportunity. The UPCC offers the chance to guide Queen’s to significantly reduce operation costs across campus by investing in university infrastructure that will use less energy. Many of these infrastructure changes, such as increasing the thickness of insulation on building roofs, will pay for themselves in just a few years. With the uncertainty of our global market, a stable investment for Queen’s is in its own sustainable infrastructure; it will most assuredly save Queen’s money in the long term.

Throughout the past century, post-secondary institutions have been the leaders in creating social change. The greatest issue of our time is global climate change. Queen’s has taken the lead on social issues before and must continue to lead by example. Signing the UPCC is the right step for the future and the right step for Queens. As one of the best Universities in Canada, Queen’s should be setting the bar high for sustainability.

To find out more about the UPCC, and what students, staff, faculty and alumni are doing at Queen’s and all across Ontario, send us an email at queensbacc@gmail.com

Aaron Myran is the Ontario residence challenge co-ordinator for the Sierra Youth Coalition. He is also a founding member of the group Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change

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