Sustainability Task Force:

You’ve never heard of them, but they’re dreaming big

By Michelle Scott
Scarlet Staff

There’s a not-so-top-secret group on campus. They’re called the Clark University Environmental Sustainability Task Force, or just the Task Force for those in the know. Even though chances are you’ve never heard of them, they’ve been convening in monthly meetings since 2007. Their members

travel amongst us; our professors, our classmates, the administration and staff are all in on the job. In all reality, behind this mask of mystery, they are the good guys. They just have a potentially maniacal-sounding name.

The Task Force functions mostly as an advisory board for different green initiatives; they receive sustainable proposals and make suggestions for Sustainable Clark and administration. Since September 2011, they have been functioning with four different subgroups: Visibility for Sustainability, Alumni Outreach, Integrating Sustainability into Academic and Financial Planning and Climate Action Plan Update. For the most part, their aims are obvious just from these titles. But what is this Climate Action Plan and why are they updating it? That leads us to possibly the most important document to come from the Task Force.

The Climate Action Plan was created once the Task Force decided it was a good idea to sign ACUPCC’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC as in “American College and University President’s Climate Commitment”). This commitment requires that we achieve climate neutrality, and a couple of bench-markers on our way there. Climate neutrality is a sleek way of saying that we are going to try our darndest not to contribute additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and but we’ll get our net-emissions to a big goose egg. So of course the Task Force needed something to get us started on this long and difficult journey.

You can find the document in all its glory on Sustainable Clark’s website. Now, most of this PDF is completely incomprehensible to me. So, if you’re looking for a highlight reel, here it is: we are going totally zero net-emissions by 2030 and will reduce gas emissions by 20% below 2005 levels by 2015.

There is good news! We have already accomplished the 2015 numbers. When I spoke with Jenny Isler, Sustainability Coordinator and generally amazing woman, she said these figures were accomplished by very simple changes. Firstly, we switched from burning oil to burning natural gas in our cogeneration plant and boilers. Hopefully we all haven’t forgotten my article concerning the cogen and its ability to capture the steam and hot water produced in the production of electricity and heat our rooms and taps. Secondly, Clark spend quite a bit of money on energy efficiency upgrades for the whole campus.

Now, our second goal isn’t going to be accomplished so easily. Zero net-emissions is a big commitment, and the Task Force hasn’t quite outlined exactly how we are going to get there. Jennie Stephens, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, spoke with me about possible path that has perhaps the most viability at the moment. By 2030 we are going to get our emissions down as much as possible. But, if we don’t reach lucky number zero, we can buy offsets that will go towards reducing emissions somewhere else. So, technically, by paying for that portion we can’t cover, we will have reduced our net-emissions to zero. This method is very controversial and ultimately it is very hard to say how we are getting to zero. 2030 is a long way from now.

The beauty of the Task Force, as Professor Stephens proposed and I second, are all the possibilities that come in this University setting. Exactly the questions the Task Force must attempt to answer are exactly the answers our professor are looking for are exactly the questions us students are asking. Remember how our parents are always telling us that we’re going to grow up to do all these important things that fix this messed up world? Well, Professor Stephens asks, if Clark can go zero emissions, why can’t a city? My thoughts exactly.

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