Recent audits reveal that Lane Community College is on track to cutting its carbon emissions down to zero. The college’s Climate Action Plan, first drafted in 2008, inventories carbon emissions generated while heating and maintaining the school, along with student’s and faculty’s travel emissions. The plan is part of a long-term national pact, called the American College and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment, through which colleges and universities publicly commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
The term ‘carbon neutral’ refers to a balance between carbon added to the atmosphere through consumption of fossil fuels and carbon taken back out by forests and wetlands. The school has a long way to go. During the initial assessment period from 2008-2010 Lane reported that both the college’s net emissions and its emissions per full-time student continued to rise.
NASA data shows that the average global temperature has already risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit overall since 1880. Nine of the ten hottest years ever on record have occurred since 2000. The increased global temperature is evidenced by higher sea levels, warmer ocean temperatures and disappearing sea ice in the arctic regions. Harsher droughts and more intense storms have also been linked to seaglobal warming.
A warmer global climate has at least anothero huge drawback: the negative effect it could have on food production in vulnerable parts of the world. A report this year from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, “AAll aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change.”
Sustainability Coordinator Jennifer Hayward said, “The things that we’re counting right now are electricity, natural gas and daily commuting by employees and students.” Hayward works with Lane’s Institute for Sustainable Practices. The ISP plans include sizeable cutbacks on energy consumption on the main campus.
According to the Global Carbon Atlas, a research and outreach organization that tracks carbon emissions worldwide, the U.S. had the second highest net carbon emissions in the world in 2010 and the sixth highest per capita emissions. Some, like University of Oregon Economic Sociologist John Bellamy Foster, interpret this data as saying mass consumption is inexorably tied to soaring carbon emissions.
Addressing climate change isn’t all bad news, however. The school is seeking to offset its carbon emissions through meaningful action. The Climate Action Plan calls for Lane to inventory the forest around the main campus, to see how much carbon the trees are taking back out of the atmosphere. This process is called sequestering. For that, the ISP has turned to Earth Science Instructor Dr. Paul Ruscher.
Dr. Ruscher is the coordinator of the Watershed Science Technician Program, and also heads up the Earth & Environmental Science group in the Science Division at Lane. Starting this term, Ruscher plans to assess the sequestering potential of the Lane forests.
A team of students from the Environmental Science and Watershed Science programs will get hands-on experience in gathering data for a real climate change project this Fall and Winter. Ruscher hopes to use test plots to get a more exact number than estimation models could give him. “We’re going to survey all the forest lands,” Ruscher said. “We’re going to establish these plots, and see what the range of carbon offset is.”
For Hayward, making it easier for students and staff to walk, bus, and ride their bicycles to school is most critical component of the plan. “The transportation is basically the biggest slice of the pie so far,” says Hayward. Lane is talking with LTD about how to get a rapid bus transit system in place between downtown and the main campus.
Hayward sees more online and downtown campus classes as a step in the right direction. “Luckily we have a new downtown campus that’s super energy efficient. It’s four times more efficient per square foot than main campus.” The ISP is also examining strategies to radically reduce electricity use and even generate some power on main campus using solar panels.
Progress has been made. Based on reported data, Lane has actually seen a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2010 and 2012.
“It has been because of energy conservation work that we’ve been doing,” Hayward said. “We’ve put several new roofs on the buildings on campus that are helping to better insulate.” In a student transportation survey this spring, there was even more good news. “We found in our survey that more people are riding the bus than we actually previously estimated.”
Though the 2014 reporting data won’t be published for two months, Hayward hinted that progress toward cutting emissions is being made. “Energy use went down,” she said. “We’re heading the right way.”