Committee Recommends Pomona Reach Carbon Neutrality by 2022

The Pomona College President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (PACS) recommended 2022 as the carbon neutrality deadline for the college, with an intermediate goal of 2017 for 100 percent green, renewable-energy sources. Pomona President David Oxtoby received the recommendation Oct. 24 and said that he hopes to decide on a deadline by the end of the semester. 

Oxtoby requested the recommendation from the
committee last spring in response to new requirements from the American College and
University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which Pomona signed in 2008. The ACUPCC now requires all signatories to choose a carbon neutrality
deadline, which was not required when Pomona initially signed.

process of coming to that date was not an easy one, according to Director of Sustainability Ginny Routhe, who serves on PACS with other administrators, students, faculty, and staff members.

“PACS was originally toying with 2047 as a date,” Routhe said. “They liked the charm in the number 47, and they wanted somewhere around 30
years to account for all the building, renovation, and efficiency projects that
would be part of the package of getting to neutrality.”

However, an article published by the University of Hawaii in
early October caused the committee to reevaluate. The article
looked at possible climate departure dates, the date after which any effects from
reducing emissions would be negligible.

“The date they honed in on actually was 2047, so PACS looked
at that and realized it was too late,” Routhe said. “If we say that’s our
neutrality date, then we feel like we’d be too late in the game.”

PACS also considered data indicating that emission reductions from
new construction projects would not affect overall emissions for the school
after a certain point.

Routhe declined to reveal the details of the strategic components
of the recommendation, but said that it focused on efficiency, energy sourcing,
and emission offsets.

“A lot of [other universities] seem like they’re picking
these arbitrary dates and not backing them up with strategies, so I think what
PACS has done really well is coming up with a strategy that could work,” said
Emma Fullem PO ’14, Commissioner of Environmental Relations for the Associated Students of Pomona College and one of
four student representatives on PACS.

Oxtoby has not yet responded to the committee’s
recommendation, but he said that he is ready to begin the discussion that it brings to the

“I have some detailed questions about numbers that I don’t
quite understand, and then I have some philosophical questions about areas of
emphasis and so forth,” he said. “And frankly, I have some concerns about how,
once you’ve set a deadline, you actually ensure you reach it. The last thing we
want to do is put something down and fall way short. We can have ambitious
goals, but also make sure we achieve them.”

“It was wise for the report to suggest we consider
2022 rather than 2047,” said Pomona environmental analysis professor Richard Hazlett, who has attended PACS meetings but is not a voting member. “I think the recommendation eight years out from now is
good in terms of no one being left off the hook. I don’t think it’s achievable
entirely, but I think that a lot of great progress can be made.”

Hazlett identified several concerns with the strategy, particularly
regarding energy production at Pomona.

“I think the report should have been more aggressive about
advocating local, on-campus energy production,” he said. “We can produce a lot
of energy on our own rooftops. I know a lot of people think solar panels on
rooftops are ugly, but I think they’re beautiful.”

Hazlett said that he also wishes that divestment had remained on
the table in some way.

“I think we really
fell down there,” he said. “It’s a case of whether you regard the college as a
moral leader, as we were with apartheid, or a bit of deadweight.”

Fullem said that in some ways, carbon neutrality could make
up for declining to divest.

“Divestment was a really student-driven movement, and this
is an administrative solution, potentially,” she said. “Something that says,
‘We really do care about climate change.’”

Hazlett observed that the report rested on many assumptions
about behavioral changes toward energy. 

“The part of the report that really fascinated me, and I
think we all need to seriously consider, is the role of behavior change in
making this happen,” he said. “It drives me crazy just getting my fellow faculty
to turn off the lights in classrooms. It’s a big problem, but it’s also a very
effective tool in terms of a solution.”

“The report leaves open a lot of questions that deserve
further exploration, and I’m sure they’ll receive them in time,” he added. “My
hope is that whatever solutions we determine are wise will co-opt the talent of
the students in terms of research and creativity. Because this is a real
education and practical opportunity, and I think that’s where Pomona can shine

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