Ryan Landvater / Sun File Photo

Pictured above is the Snyder Road Solar Farm, Cornell’s first large-scale solar initiative. This is one step in Cornell’s plans for a low carbon future.

February 2, 2016

2035 Carbon Neutrality Goal Not A Priority for Cornell, Garrett Says

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Although the Climate Action Plan report released by President Emeritus David J. Skorton last year stated that Cornell would achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, President Elizabeth Garrett said in an October interview with The Sun that she does not support this initiative.

“For me, the more important thing is the research and creative work and education that goes on and not thinking about some arbitrary year date that we really haven’t studied with respect with how feasible it is for us to reach that,” Garrett said.

The first version of the Climate Action Plan was released in September 2009, announcing a 2050 goal for campus carbon neutrality. However, Skorton moved the goal date to 2035 after a 2013 Faculty Senate resolution urged the University to accelerate its plans.

Skorton pledged to transform Cornell into a carbon neutral campus by 2035 as a way of addressing climate change. The Climate Action Plan report consisted of 16 specific recommendations and prioritized six “key milestones” to help achieve this goal.

Accomplishing this goal would make Cornell a leader in sustainability practices and help the campus become more environmentally conscious, according to the University.

However, the University never officially adopted this goal, according to Garrett. She said she believes the University’s priorities lie elsewhere.

“What we ought to focus on is: how do we produce the best research that can change the world? How do we demonstrate it here and show the scalability and how do we train the next generation in a way that will be sensitive and proactive on those issues,” Garrett said.

Garrett added that although this approach may lead the campus to become carbon neutral, it will, more importantly, “lead to results throughout the world that I think would have a greater impact on climate in the long run.”

However, several faculty members disagree with Garrett’s plan to step away from the Climate Action Plan, maintaining that its implementation is a key part of the University’s mission.

Prof. Stephen Ellner, ecology and evolutionary biology, said he believes Garrett should be leading the charge toward reducing climate change, and not hindering the effort.

“It is the responsibility of universities in general, and Cornell in particular, to take a leadership role in alerting society to knowledge-based issues,” Ellner said, quoting the 2013 Faculty Senate Resolution.

“We already know that rapid, drastic reductions in carbon emissions are essential to avoid massive disruptions from climate change,” he said.

Although it was never formally adopted, the University has already taken some of the plan’s recommended steps, according to Prof. Brian Cabot, ecology and evolutionary biology.

“There is a significant number of faculty, staff and students who understand the need to reduce Cornell’s climate impact,” he said. “Despite President Garrett’s retreat from the Skorton commitment, we are continuing to work without pause.”