November 17, 2008

Student Leaders Brainstorm for Carbon Neutral Campus

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For the 60 student leaders from various campus groups who attended Saturday’s “Deciding Neutrality: Generating Ideas” conference, the only thing cooler than being cool is being Carbon neutral. The discussion session — which was hosted by the Student Climate Action Plan Committee — was meant to spawn ideas and action to reduce Cornell’s carbon emissions.
The Cornell Student Climate Action Committee was formed to identify potential green house gas mitigation options that can be implemented at the student level. Deciding Neutrality was the first phase of formulating the Student Climate Action Plan that will be shared with student groups and administrators with the hopes of implementing these ideas. The SCAC’s Leadership Team, a core group of student environmental leaders, with representatives from environmentally-oriented student organizations, planned the event and invited student leaders from other organizations across campus.
Katherine McEachern ’09, president of KyotoNow! and part of SCAC’s leadership team, explained that the SCAC organized Deciding Neutrality since, “it’s so important that ideas are driven from students because those solutions will be the ones that fit into our lifestyle and make the biggest difference. And also I think that if students aren’t brought into the process of coming up with ideas, we’re not going to be as involved when it comes to implementing them.”
Student Trustee Mike Walsh grad, another member of the leadership team, explained, “Our main goal is not only to educate students on campus about Cornell’s climate action plan, but also involve students … in this process as we’re trying to make a contribution to carbon neutrality here at Cornell.”
Deciding Neutrality had three primary goals: to brainstorm ideas for carbon emission reductions on campus, to inform the student leaders about the importance of the Climate Action Plan and to inspire student leaders to make behavioral changes both personally and within their respective student groups. Kimberley D.C. Schroder ’09, president of the Sustainability Hub, added, “There are so many specialized knowledge groups on campus, so bringing those people together … bringing all that knowledge together, and to CAP, and making it available to other areas around campus is really what [Deciding Neutrality] is about.”
During the event, student participants were introduced to Cornell’s Climate Action Plan and the concept of the Student Climate Action Plan. Then students broke into smaller discussion groups and identified areas of energy usage in places such as dorms, dining halls, libraries and recreational facilities, as well as the ways students can reduce the environmental impact of our campus activities. These ideas will be refined based upon criteria determined by the Committee’s leadership team.
However, the question remains as to whether Cornell students will be on board with the changes proposed by the Student Climate Action Plan. Claire Maloney ’11 a representative from the Sustainability Hub said, “I think that is the challenge and we need to make it easier for people to make these changes. Students will have to make sacrifices but to make the sacrifices as minimal as possible … I think that’s basically what we need to provide — how we’re going to make this feasible for students.”
Nikhil Kumar ’11, chair of the Student Assembly Committee on Residential and Community Life, participated in the event. Kumar said, “If we want to make real strides towards maintaining Cornell’s Climate Commitment, we need to have both institutional support and grassroots energy.”
Kumar continued, “I think it was great to have so many different student organizations represented [at Deciding Neutrality] … the panels were a great way for some of us who haven’t been regularly involved [in sustainability] to become more aware of the efforts on campus. Now, we need to take the ideas and figure out ways that our individual groups can contribute to a larger effort.”
Walsh concluded, “Another goal today was get students to connect across different groups, across boundaries so that they can go ahead and start working on some of these ideas themselves … I think it’s an amazing testament to Cornell students, and [an] amazing sign that we have so many students come out here on a Saturday to contribute their ideas and to get involved because they’re concerned about Cornell’s carbon footprint and they want to make a difference.”