Sophie Arzumanov / Sun Staff Writer

The University Assembly Meeting on Tuesday, January 21, 2020

January 22, 2020

University Assembly Continues Climate Conversation on Fossil Fuel Divestment, Sustainable Energy Goals

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Addressing demands of Cornellians, the University Assembly, on Tuesday, moved to address climate change through Resolution X, which supports Cornell’s divestment from fossil fuel industries.

Prof. Caroline Levine, English, presented the resolution alongside a presentation explaining why the University should divest from fossil fuels.

“Our resolution is very simple,” Levine said. “We’ve asked the trustees to divest quickly and in an orderly fashion.”

Levine explained how everyday, “we work … to educate young people so they can live fulfilling lives,” yet at the same time, Cornell’s investment in fossil fuels undermines this very future, she said.

Levine also pointed out that if Cornell divested, it would not be “reinventing the wheel,” citing 42 other universities that have already divested, such as Syracuse University and the University of Massachusetts.

The UA also heard from Rick Burgess, vice president of facilities, who presented Cornell’s Climate Action Plan, an initiative that aims for Cornell to reach carbon neutrality by 2035.

In pursuit of that goal, Burgess stressed a need to make better use of pre-existing buildings, while avoiding the energy expenses by building new ones. But one of Cornell’s most ambitious plans, he said, involves enhancing the University’s access to renewable energy by testing “earth source heating” –– a geo-thermal process that, if successful, could use the earth’s natural heat to warm campus.

“We’ve done just about all you can do above ground,” Burgess said. “The next thing we can do to advance this is to get a well in the ground and really see what’s down there.”

To do so, Burgess said that the U.S. Department of Energy has granted over $1 million to Cornell to research the viability of earth source heating, a venture that has been a part of the University’s Climate Action Plan since 2009. Overall, the project is estimated to cost $700 million, which would include exploratory drilling.

The Sustainable Cornell Council, a key player in achieving carbon neutrality, seeks to “accelerate the impact” of sustainability initiatives. The Council hopes to test the technology and eventually market it to fund some of the near-billion-dollar expense.

Gavin Martin ’20, College of Arts and Sciences representative on the Student Assembly, asked if the council is working with the Cayuga Nation on the initiatives. Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff, who was also in attendance, said that he is “not aware of any specific interactions,” but is open to suggestions.

Kotilkoff also noted the timeline for transition to renewable sources. “Experts should tell us if we should transfer to grid in the summer when we are moving toward renewable capacity, or continue to run our steam generator,” he said.