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Sustainable Universities in the Modern World

Sustainable Universities in the Modern World

Lucy Hummer

In mid-2017, President Trump announced that the United States was no longer going to be participating in the Paris Agreement, which was an accord focusing on climate change mitigation. This agreement, signed by 194 states and the European Union, is the first step taken by an international body to officially work towards combatting the changing climate and its effects on both individuals and the world at large. This goal is most commonly placed within the context of rising temperatures, with the established objective that the global temperature should not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

As the United States is of course one of the top tier contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, it is extremely heartbreaking that the President has chosen not to comply with this critically important agreement. There is so much at stake, it is hard to image that somebody, or a group of people, could comfortably make a decision such as this at such a critical point in environmental history. Regardless, we must more forward and adapt to the situation which we are presented. How can we do the best we can to adapt to and mitigate the effects of our changing climate, even when our own government is working against us?

A movement called We Are Still In (WASI) has begun among individual businesses, universities, cities and even states, with the intention that these groups can continue to comply with the Paris Agreement, regardless of Trump’s decision. There is an Opportunity Agenda which lists 10 high-impact ways which these groups can work to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, making it as easy as possible for these individual groups to work towards mitigating their effects on our environment. GW is a signatory to WASI, and is actively working towards achieving many of these 10 opportunities.

The number 1 opportunity listed is “doubling down on renewable energy”. As GW is 50% solar powered, I can brag and say that we are a shining example of a university which is taking great leaps towards our renewable future, at least within the context of our own energy use. We, of course, are not perfect, but are continuing to focus on opportunity number 1. (If you want to know more about the Capital Partners Solar Project, it’s super cool and there’s lot of information on the website). There are also goals targeted at terrestrial carbon sequestration (the fancy way of saying plant plants) and retrofitting buildings (the fancy way of saying improve energy efficiency). Again, GW is working hard towards both of these as well.

When we think about environmentalism, we tend to be either incredibly zoomed in or incredibly zoomed out. By this I mean we either think about ourselves as an individual or ourselves as a member of the world as a whole. Everything in between tends to be neglected, and we forget about all of the groups, cultures and societies that exist in between 1 person and 7 billion. A university is a perfect example of one of those groups that exists in this middle ground. Institutions such as GW have an amazing opportunity to make a huge impact on the world for the in between, in terms of advocacy, research, investments and anything else. Universities like GW will allow for movements such as WASI for the Paris Accord to push forwards, regardless of the state of the federal government.

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