Letter to the Editor
In the article “Students spread green knowledge” (Nov. 24), The Tartan reported about various students, faculty, and staff who attended the national AASHE conference on green campuses. The article correctly notes that a priority of AASHE is getting campuses to sign the President’s Climate Commitment (PCC), which commits campuses to becoming carbon neutral, i.e., having zero carbon footprint. It also noted that Carnegie Mellon has not signed the PCC.
Unfortunately the article misrepresented various campus groups’ recommendations as to whether President Cohon should sign the PCC. In fact, both parties mentioned — the Green Practices Committee and the referenced spring 2008 student project on Sustainable Campuses — recommend that we NOT sign the PCC. The whole report of the student project is available on the “Reports” section of Carnegie Mellon’s Steinbrenner Institute website.
Let me very briefly summarize our position. First note that the PCC is essentially a 10-step plan for creating a system on a campus that can eventually lead to lower carbon emissions, of which the first step is a commitment to being carbon neutral. For example, one of the early steps is an inventory of our current carbon dioxide emissions (which we estimate at about 160,000 metric tons per year). Other steps include committing to purchasing 15 percent green electricity (we currently purchase about 30 percent). Carnegie Mellon is already doing nine of the 10 steps required of schools after pledging to become carbon neutral.
In our case, the numerous steps we have taken to date — many of them years before the PCC was created — make us realize how challenging (and potentially impossible) it might be to completely eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions of the university. Furthermore, the PCC is non-binding. If someone fails to meet the PCC by their target date, there are no repercussions. It is a very weak commitment.
As a result, we do not feel it benefits anyone on campus to sign it, and further sets a bad educational example by suggesting the way to make a hard decision is to determine the answer first instead of researching how to achieve it.
In short, our decision not to sign the PCC is being construed as a lack of commitment to campus sustainability, climate change, etc., which is inconsistent with the past 10 years of campus activities. Our “commitment” is in question. But we feel we have been following a fairly simple rule: faced with the choice of doing the work to mitigate our impacts or making shallow commitments, we have chosen to mitigate.