Pitzer Plans for Greenhouse Gas Reduction

A Pitzer College Climate Action Plan released April 9 includes recommendations for reducing the school’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The study, which was conducted and written by student interns and a hired consultant, found that the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions comes from students traveling. The action plan made several suggestions for reducing greenhouse gases.    

In 2007, Pitzer joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a nationwide network of schools dedicated to sustainability. The agreement stipulated that Pitzer would create plans to achieve carbon neutrality. The new action plan includes a goal of reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and becoming completely carbon neutral by 2050.    

“My approach is to put in things that are reasonable, and I think that there is a lot of progress that could be made that is outlined in the plan,” Mike Wolfsen, the consultant, said.    

“The plan addressed behavioral and functional changes that would actually be realistic for the future,” wrote Alexa Coughlin PZ ’12, an intern who worked on the project, in an e-mail to TSL.    

Pitzer conducted a similar study in 2007-2008. The most notable change from 2007-2008 was a significant increase in study abroad travel emissions, because the number of students participating in study abroad increased from 134 to 214, according to the report.    

Lindon Pronto PZ ’12, Pitzer’s environmental senator, was less optimistic about the action plan.      

“This report doesn’t really have teeth…because achieving carbon neutrality is such an all-encompassing project,” said Pronto, who is writing his thesis on the project.    

Pronto said he thought the school could not easily reduce its emissions.    

The action plan found that the largest contributors to Pitzer’s carbon emissions in 2010-2011 were travel between campus and home, study abroad air travel and purchased electricity.    

Pronto said that it would be difficult to reduce emissions in travel between campus and home and study abroad travel.

“In terms of actually concretely doing something, it’s a very difficult area to address,” he said.    

Wolfsen agreed with Pronto that it would be difficult to enact these changes.      

“The only way to offset is to buy Travel Offsets, which is basically where you pay money to someone to add oxygen to the planet. But you’re buying your way out of the problem,” Wolfsen said.    

Pronto said the school is unlikely to change its practices because implementation of the goals would be expensive.    

“There’s virtually zero financial incentive for colleges to put solar [panels] on their buildings,” he said.    

According to Pronto, most of the changes that Pitzer can make are in the dining halls and local transportation. The action plan addresses these areas, recommending, for example, financial incentives for employees to carpool or use public transportation to come to work.    

Pronto said that the administration and students need to commit to effecting change together.      

“It has to come from a variety of top-down, bottom-up approaches,” Pronto said. “Students need to understand why these changes are happening, which means they need a heightened level of environmental awareness of what their individual actions are, both locally and globally–for example, how carbon-intensive their diet is.”    

The study and action plan were conducted and written by Wolfsen, Coughlin, Simone Fine PZ ’13, Jessica Grady-Benson PZ ’14 and Matthew Shubin PZ ’13.

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