On Passing the Climate Action Plan

Many of us, especially those from disadvantaged and exploited communities, are already feeling the effects of climate change and the unjust fossil fuel economy. The science and policy implications are clear — we must reduce carbon emissions immediately to avoid even more devastating future impacts.

Amherst has drafted a plan to curb its carbon emissions, called the Climate Action Plan (CAP). Last spring, Laura Draucker, director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, explained the CAP at a town hall that over 60 students attended, hosted by the Direct Action Coordinating Committee. Her presentation laid out a path to achieve campus carbon neutrality by 2035, a date 25 years after the baseline data used from 2010, decided on by the CAP task force based on benchmarks from peer institutions. While steps have been taken toward this goal — last semester, Amherst invested in a solar project in Maine that will cover 45 percent of our purchased electricity needs when finished — the remaining 55 percent, as well as our gas heating infrastructure, still runs on fossil fuels. Fortunately, consultants hired by Amherst have determined that a shift from gas to renewable ground-source energy could be both technically and financially feasible.

Although the draft of the CAP exists, the administration still has not formally agreed to this investment. Carbon neutrality pledges are increasingly becoming the norm among universities. Even in 2008, 575 colleges had already signed a CAP, and many more have been implemented since. But the Amherst administration’s inertia and ostensible disinterest to prioritize the CAP has led to its stagnation.

As students, we have the power to show the administration that it must prioritize carbon neutrality as Amherst College enters its third century. The best “Promise” Amherst can make to its current, future and past students is to invest part of its enormous fundraising campaign and even larger endowment in the infrastructural changes necessary to become fossil fuel-free.

We came to college to receive the education that will help us face the future; however, at a school that depends on exploitation and environmental degradation to keep its lights on, we receive that education at the cost of other people’s quality of life and the very future for which we prepare.

Community building in a place that directly contributes to the destruction of the homes and lives of some of its members seems impossible. Ties on campus and with the Pioneer Valley will only be strengthened when we transition away from fossil fuels; reliance on fossil fuels inherently destroys communities, as evidenced by the recent gas explosions in Eastern Massachusetts and the proposed expansion of local Columbia Gas pipelines. Indeed, adopting and investing in the Climate Action Plan is a necessary step toward a more sustainable and compassionate future.