This post was co-authored by Sylvia Neely.
Penn State already boasts world-class researchers on climate change, but can we also become a leader in reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions? How can Penn State best prepare our students to face the challenges ahead of them? These were the questions posed to seventy-five participants at the Penn State Getting to Zero conference held at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on April 11, 2014. This half-day gathering (sponsored by the Rock Ethics Institute, the Sustainability Institute, and the Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs) brought together a wide array of University personnel (staff, students, administration, and faculty), as well as community members to learn about current commitments to reduce emissions and to strategize for the future.
In opening remarks, Denice Wardrop, director of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, pointed out that “Penn State is already a leader in greenhouse gas reduction,” with its plan to cut emissions 35 percent, compared with 2005 levels by 2020. But she challenged the gathering to do much more. Prof. Jonathan Brockopp, the organizer of the conference, said the goal was “to begin imagining a workable plan to achieve zero effective emissions by 2050.” Brockopp, associate professor of history at Penn State and an affiliate faculty member of the Rock Ethics Institute, stressed the obligation that the university has “toward our students and our community to model ethical leadership in a warming world.”
The report of this conference summarizes the sense of the meeting that reducing greenhouse gas emissions was urgent, that it should be an important part of the educational mission of the University. The full report lists the participants and outlines many of the innovative ideas that they proposed. But the organizers see this conference as merely the first step in a continuing conversation to make addressing climate change central to the university’s mission and operation.
On July 1, Brockopp and Wardrop presented the conclusions of the conference to senior members of the Penn State administration, urging them to institute system-wide goals for Penn State and to include climate change considerations as a central feature of strategic planning. Members of the organizing committee also met with Robert N. Pangborn, Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education, to discuss ways to incorporate knowledge of climate change issues into the educational experience of undergraduate students.
The organizing committee intends to follow this successful initial event by sponsoring presentations, facilitating discussions, and issuing challenges to the university community to further reduce emissions. We welcome your participation and your suggestions for achieving this important goal. Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @PSUGet2Zero.