The University reiterated its plans to achieve its goal of complete carbon neutrality by 2035 on Monday afternoon as part of the ongoing “Perspectives on the Climate Change Challenge” seminar series.
Cornell’s plan was outlined by Sarah Zemanick, director of the Campus Sustainability Office, who identified the three main goals of the initiative: eliminating combustion emissions, integrating climate literacy into the curriculum and expanding research on fossil fuel emission.
Cornell’s carbon emissions primarily come from the buildings and not the energy plant on campus, according to Zemanick. This means we have to “be smart about the way we use energy on campus,” Zemanick said, including focusing efforts on decreasing carbon emissions on an individual level.
In order to achieve what Zemanick called a “big” goal, the Campus Sustainability Office created a four step action plan: to avoid, reduce, replace and offset carbon intensive activities.
Cornell uses one-thousandth of the state’s energy, according to Zemanick, so it’s “a good place to try to scale things up” in terms of energy conservation. She also said that Cornell is “uniquely suited” to act as a leader in reducing carbon emissions because of faculty expertise in sustainability and the University’s commitment to the environment.
Zemanick pointed to several systems the University already has in place to reduce carbon emissions, such as “lake source cooling,” as well as many projects they hope to execute in the future, such as “Earth source heat.” This project aims to eliminate fossil fuels for campus heating, which is currently one of the University’s largest sources of carbon emission, according to Zemanick.
Running a research facility in a cold climate is difficult without “burning something,” Zemanick said, so her team is hopeful that ESH, which uses the heat stored in the Earth’s crust to heat buildings, will allow Cornell to decrease carbon emissions in this area. Zemanick said the team is on track to start testing for this project within five years.
Realistically, however, Zemanick knows that some emissions, such as from commuting and air travel, are difficult to completely eliminate, so she hopes that the University can offset these emissions through afforestation and other similar programs.
Zemanick acknowledges that the efforts to reduce carbon emissions are “slow going,” but she is “proud that we are making progress.” For example, seven percent of the Ithaca campus’ electricity is created by solar panels, the maximum amount possible under current regulations.
According to the Campus Sustainability Office, Cornell is the top ranked Ivy League school for overall carbon reduction as of 2017 and Zemanick hopes the University can continue to, “bring new ideas and new solutions” to the issue of carbon emissions.