It is encouraging to see Cornell’s ongoing, significant commitments to sustainability, as detailed in “Cornell Doubles-Down Commitment to Sustainability Measures Despite Pandemic.” While the Cornell Climate Action Plan is admirable, larger scale, statewide initiatives are obviously needed, and change will not be delivered from experts alone. As New York residents, Cornell students must fight for an equitable energy transition. Why is this important? Climate change kills over 150,000 people per year, according to the WHO, while air pollution kills 6.5 million annually, as estimated by IEA. This annual death toll already exceeds the most deadly genocides of the twentieth century.
“A lot of research that we do involves harvesting light,” Brown said. “You need to harness light in order to get better quality fruits and vegetables, so it really is fitting that we’re harvesting light to cut our energy bills.”
The University Assembly voted 7-1-1 to table a resolution requesting additional information from the University about the costs of carbon neutrality Tuesday. Prof. Ellis Loew, physiology, emphasized the importance of carbon neutrality and its potential impact on the entire planet. “Anything you can do to minimize energy usage will have a financial impact — which will be positive — and a positive impact on our environment by reducing our carbon footprint,” Loew said. Loew acknowledged the financial burden carbon neutrality places on the University, but argued that the value of carbon neutrality was greater. “There is going to be cost to everything,” he said.
Monger said he immediately emailed students of his Introductory Oceanography class — including a listserv of 3,000 former students — after reading about Garrett’s decision, asking them to write to the president with their concerns.
“I made clear early in my tenure that I did not believe divesting from fossil fuel companies was in the best interest of the University,” Garrett said in a statement to the assembly. “An impact [on the global climate crisis], the board decided in January, could not be achieved through the symbolic action of divestment.”
Residents of Enfield, New York are opposing plans to build a wind farm on a hill in their town which could produce 20 percent of Cornell’s annual energy. In December 2014, Cornell announced plans to purchase all electricity generated by Enfield’s Black Oak Wind Farm following its construction. The farm will produce 16 megawatts of renewable electricity — a significant percentage of of Cornell’s annual energy usage. “This is a major step toward Cornell becoming a carbon-neutral-campus,” said KyuJung Whang, vice president for facilities services, in an interview with the University. The purchase reflects the University’s progress towards an original carbon neutrality goal, which is delineated in the Climate Action Plan.
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.
President Elizabeth Garrett’s cold-shoulder to the sustainability movement is not only a cowardly retreat from President Emeritus David Skorton’s earlier pledge, but also demonstrates a disturbing trend within the administration to brush off student voices.