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UMBC's revision of its Climate Action Plan has led to debate among environmental student organizations. (Photo by Kristina Soetje)

Climate Action Plan review critiqued for slow progress

As UMBC looks to revise its Climate Action Plan, concern grows among students and faculty over whether the school is doing enough to promote sustainability.

In 2007, President Hrabowski signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which effectuated UMBC’s own Climate Action Plan. The plan outlines strategies for the school to reach carbon neutrality by 2075, along with other goals to mitigate the effects the school has on the environment.

But many worry it may be too little too late.

In a petition created last spring, multiple student organizations came together to draft a revision of the original Climate Action Plan, with an expedited timeline. They proposed a 50 percent reduction of the university’s carbon footprint by 2020 and carbon neutrality by 2040.

“As a university, we have the power to impact generations of people and fight climate change on a broad scale,” said Roy Meyers, a professor of political science and research and Education Work Group Chair of the Climate Action Steering Committee. The committee was created to advise Hrabowski and push the campus in the movement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To reach the school’s goal, Meyers suggests setting “realistic but ambitious medium-term targets,” or smaller goals that will keep the university on track for their larger commitment. “The nature of the problem is very clear, and the nature of the solution is also clear,” he said.

Meyers separates sustainability on campus into four parts: energy consumption, transportation, waste and education and research. While faculty tends to focus on the education and research, their help will be needed to tackle other sections.

While research is cross-discipline, he says there is not enough communication between departments.

“It’s important for faculty with similar interests to communicate with each other about the courses they teach and to learn from each other.” To improve, Meyers believes there must be a campus wide discussion on policy, economic incentives and the role of education.

Zachary Grzywacz, of the Environmental Task Force, a student organization, echoes Meyers’ sentiment, applauding faculty for their progress in innovation. However, he wonders whether the slow progress is a mark of a cautious university or a school focused solely on its image as competitive and forward-thinking.

Grzywacz calls the revised CAP goals “flexible but hopeful.” Student groups, however, have often voiced concerns with having their opinions heard by administration.

“We want to push the administration past what they want to do,” he said.

Creating a sustainability component in the school’s academic requirements was another idea introduced, one that is backed by both faculty and students. “There are a lot of aspects of sustainability that are complicated and require a class,” Grzywacz added.

The idea has been modeled in other schools. The University of Maryland, College Park has classes that focus on environmental impact. Other schools have tried different approaches to get students involved, even creating competitions between dorms to use less water and electricity.

Tessa Robinson, senior environmental science major and president of the Student Climate Change Coalition, stressed that action must be taken by students.

“Petitions are great, but they don’t always make the change you want to see,” she said