In March of 2017, Barnard’s board of trustees voted in favor of divestment from fossil fuel, coal, and tar sands companies that deny climate science or otherwise undermine efforts to mitigate climate change. This was a historic move and fantastic victory, one which could not have been achieved without the tireless efforts of the entire Barnard community, mobilized largely by student organization Divest Barnard. Barnard’s commitment to divestment set an example for other institutions of higher education and marked the start of an important process of cutting ties with harmful industries. We, Barnard for 100% Renewable Energy, are here nearly two years later to ask Barnard to take the next step and fully divest from fossil fuels. We are asking the administration to commit to 100 percent renewable energy by no later than 2040.
What exactly does it mean for an institution to run on 100 percent renewable energy? Why not set a goal of carbon neutrality or 100 percent renewable electricity? To give a brief overview, carbon neutrality is achieved by reducing on-site emissions as much as possible, then purchasing offsets (for example, in the form of wind credits) to effectively “cancel out” the remaining existing carbon emissions. While this is important for reducing environmental impact, carbon neutrality still allows for fossil fuel emissions, many of which occur on site, thus impacting local air quality and contributing to the global greenhouse effect. 100 percent renewable electricity is exactly what it sounds like—all of the electricity used on campus is provided by renewable sources like solar or wind. Again, this is a key step in becoming fossil free, but it is only a step.
We see committing to 100 percent renewable energy as bold and necessary climate action. For an institution to run on 100 percent renewable energy, every appliance or system that runs on oil or gas must be converted to electric. The institution then sources all electricity, either purchased or generated on site, from renewables such as solar or wind.
Is a transition to 100 percent renewable energy a huge undertaking? Yes. It will require implementation of innovative measures to meet the College’s energy needs with clean sources. To make a public commitment to meet this goal, the administration will need to develop a feasible plan to move forward with an energy transition.
That leads us to where we are now. Our role as student organizers is to generate positive student support that will motivate the administration to move forward with a plan and a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy on campus. With the support of Environment America, students at colleges and universities across the nation are calling on their administrations to commit to bold climate action. Most recently, Brown University put forth a plan to offset 100 percent of campus electricity with solar and wind. Schools taking similar action include Stanford University, Boston University, the University of California system, and others. As institutions of higher education, colleges and universities have a responsibility to set the tone for regional and national leadership. As a highly visible institution, a commitment by Barnard to clean energy would position the College as a leader in climate action.
Now more than ever, it is imperative to swiftly transition away from fossilized energy sources. According to a report released by the International Panel on Climate Change in October of 2018, limiting global warming to 1.5˚C (the widely-accepted threshold for preventing the worst effects of climate change) requires taking extreme measures. Among these is included a drastic reduction of carbon emissions by 2030, a goal that will be much more achievable with the commitment of institutions like Barnard.
Additionally, the fossil fuel industry, which is largely responsible for the climate crisis, also has a long and ongoing history of dispossession and violence against women and marginalized groups of people. Barnard College is an institution dedicated to addressing issues of gender and liberation of all people. One more way Barnard can further demonstrate its dedication to justice is by fully divesting from fossil fuels.
With incredible advances being made in the clean energy sector and New York’s strong incentives for renewable energy, the time is now for Barnard to make a bold commitment to 100 percent renewable energy on campus. The climate needs it. The people need it. This is a huge project; there’s no doubt about it. It’ll take creativity, innovation, and hard work on everyone’s part. But, after all, this is Barnard we’re talking about.
If you’re with us, join our team! We are actively recruiting students to get involved. Additionally, check out our petition. The more signatures we get, the stronger our collective support will be. To get involved or for general inquiries, please email email@example.com.
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