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Planning for Climate Change Impacts at GW

Kehan Desousa

Why is it important for GW to plan for resilience to climate change? Resilience refers to the capacity of a community, business, or natural environment to prevent, withstand, respond to, and recover from a disruption, like the impacts of climate change. We know that GW and the DMV region are already experiencing these impacts, which means we need to make sure we're resilient to them.

The District and GW have been experiencing impacts related to climate change for a number of years now, like the 2012 Derecho that flooded the Mount Vernon Campus. In fact, GW's 2017 Climathon focused on "hacking" resilience in the District. Looking forward, the District is going to face increased precipitation, extreme heat, sea level rise, extreme weather, and storm surge, all of which will impact GW students, faculty, and staff.

The number of days above 95 degrees is projected to increase, with frequent warm nights; this means that core body temperatures won't get a chance to reset at night, harming human health. Heavy flash rain events are also projected to rise, causing flooding and run-off pollution from the region's hardscape surfaces. Severe storms (hurricanes and derechos) will be increasingly energized by warmer air and water, threatening flooding and power outages. The District's rivers - which are tidal - contribute to sea level rise and storm surge; tides on the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers have risen 11 inches in the past century already.

While the District government is planning for citywide resilience through Climate Ready DC and the 100 Resilient Cities Resilience Planning, GW is also taking steps to plan for resilience as an institution. In addition to considering the way climate change will impact the District, GW will also consider the global impacts of climate change, which may alter the availability of food, fuel, and other commodities.

GW's resilience planning efforts were originally inspired by a commitment made to Second Nature, a non-profit that convenes colleges and universities around climate change, but have taken on new urgency given the undeniable impacts of climate change. To begin the process, Sustainable GW has hosted two workshops with the sustainability faculty and university staff. These workshops were intended to begin the conversation around resilience as well as to begin honing discussion: what aspects of GW and our urban resilience do we need to focus on?

These ideas will be further distilled and discussed over the next several months, culminating in the development of several concrete, actionable targets that will be incorporated in GW's overall sustainability goals. That way, Sustainable GW can continue to track and advocate for progress towards the broader goal of increasing GW's resilience to climate change impacts.

Sustainable GW plans to continue to convene faculty, students and staff around this topic for the next several months, aiming to release the final Resilience Strategy to the public in early 2020. If you're interested in learning more or participating in GW's resilience planning, please contact kdesousa@gwu.edu.

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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