Letter to the Editor: Withholding support for the University’s Sustainability Plan

Last week, under pressure from Green New Deal Lewisburg (the local hub of the Sunrise Movement) and many others from the University, the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability paused the finalization of the campus’s Sustainability Plan. The plan, referred to as “Sustainability@Bucknell,” is intended to serve as a framework that would enable the University to become a “local to global sustainable living-learning community.” Many members of the campus community saw this as an opportunity for the University to create a blueprint to guide us into sustainability leadership while building a thriving and inclusive campus community. However, like other University draft plans in the past, the current draft of the sustainability plan lacks discussion of actual action steps. What’s maybe even worse than its lack of embedded action is that it legitimizes narratives of climate denialism, champions carbon neutrality as a pillar of sustainability, and says nothing about tackling our primary source of carbon emissions on campus in any meaningful or transparent way.

The world’s leading scientists tell us that we have less than 10 years to avert the worst impacts of climate breakdown. Yet, the University’s current draft plan teeters closer to business as usual. Its authors are opting for what they are calling a “pragmatic middle path” which uses climate denialism as one benchmark for defining said path. Now is the time to build a clean, equitable and renewable campus energy system–not to forge some “pragmatic middle path” to sympathize with those who care more about profits than they do about people and the planet. 

Given this call for a “pragmatic middle path,” it is no surprise that the University would rather buy their way to carbon neutrality than prioritize eliminating existing fossil fuel use and fossil fuel emissions. And fittingly, the draft plan’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for carbon emissions are based on carbon neutrality, not carbon zero. The KPI should be the level of carbon emissions reduction, based on a 2008 benchmark. It does not even mention carbon zero as being an ultimate end goal and instead, it champions carbon offsets as a means to reduce carbon emissions.  Buying carbon offsets to meet a carbon neutrality commitment does not equate to achieving sustainability in any definition of that term, including the University’s own definition.

Thanks to the plan’s misleading notion of true sustainability, opting for measurements of carbon neutrality instead of carbon emissions reduction, and University decision-makers’ comfortability with the status quo, it likely was easy to forego discussion of a timeline for how the University would transition away from the natural gas co-gen plant–our number one emitter of greenhouse gases. If the University does not tackle their primary source of carbon emissions in a meaningful way, they will be only fooling themselves. As the University’s admissions were already in decline before COVID-19, I hope decision-makers realize that students as young as middle school are already extremely involved in climate activism and this sham of a plan will be a serious deal-breaker for many future students as they are deciding on where to invest in their future. We need to remind decision-makers at the University that higher education institutions are supposed to prepare students for the future and the fossil fuel industry is one of the biggest existential threats to the future of young people today. How can the University expect students to invest in this institution when the institution itself is a co-conspirator to the destruction of a livable future for young people? Now is the time when we all need to be asking the University, “Which side are you on?”

Given the pause on finalization, we have more time to get this plan closer to a blueprint of true sustainability. The Director of Campus Sustainability, Victor Udo, is now reopening the draft Plan for feedback and planning a public forum on an updated version in August. As a campus community, we need to take advantage of this additional time to make sure University decision-makers know that buying their way to carbon neutrality, ignoring environmental justice, and doing nothing about transitioning off fossil fuels, does not fit into a model of true sustainability. The University’s continued lack of action will only create bigger problems down the road, for the University and for communities disproportionately impacted by our pollution. 

Green New Deal Lewisburg withholds its support of the sustainability plan until it is revised to include a serious plan to transition off of fossil fuels to heat, cool, and electrify campus.

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