Campus Life

More than 200 join Earth Day discussion on climate and carbon at Penn State

The following week, on April 28, University Faculty Senate passed climate resolution

On April 22, 2020, on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, over 200 people attended the Sustainability Institute's virtual information session, “Climate and Carbon Challenges at Penn State,” to address the work of Penn State students, faculty and staff to accelerate the University’s mitigation efforts against climate change. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On April 22, the Sustainability Institute hosted a virtual information session, “Climate and Carbon Challenges at Penn State,” to address the work of Penn State students, faculty and staff to accelerate the University’s mitigation efforts against climate change. The event brought focus on four climate-action initiatives underway throughout Penn State, including research projects, methods and institutional initiatives to set and reach more ambitious climate goals.

The event was held on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, during #PSUEarthWeek, and in the first year of the "decade of action" for delivering on the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“This year we are focusing on Goal 13, which is climate action,” said Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer at Penn State and director of the Sustainability Institute. “There is a lot happening around the University related to this goal on many levels. This event gave the presenting groups an opportunity to share notes, in a way, while also informing attendees about efforts they may not have been aware of before.”

Charles Anderson, associate professor of biology, and Margot Kaye, associate professor of forest ecology, presented on behalf of Carbon Negative 2030, an unofficial group of faculty members at Penn State who have been researching strategies that would allow the University to reach carbon negativity by the year 2030. Anderson highlighted the work Penn State has done to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to reach an estimated 35% reduction since 2005.

Kaye elaborated on some of the ongoing efforts and possible strategies the group has been exploring to further reduce emissions and sequester carbon to reach the carbon negative goal, such as implementing more carbon neutral energy sources, electrifying the University’s vehicle fleet, incentivizing carbon neutral commuting and carbon offsetting through managing Penn State forest and agricultural lands.

University Faculty Senate members Nicholas Rowland, professor of sociology and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona, and Brandi Robinson, assistant teaching professor for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, discussed the efforts that have been made over the past academic year to incorporate sustainability into the operational structure of the Faculty Senate. According to Rowland, “At the end of this month [April], sustainability will be featured in the duties of approximately half of all senate committees, in all cases through the lens of the committees’ other duties.”

The Faculty Senate also discussed a climate resolution that was introduced by Robinson in March and approved by the Senate on April 28, 101 to 14. This resolution was developed in the context of climate goals set by local municipalities, such as Ferguson Township and the State College Borough, and contains several climate goals the senate would like the Penn State administration to consider in the university planning process. “I feel that in an institution like ours with so many world-renowned scientists tackling all facets of the climate problem it seems really important to me that we step back and listen to our own science and more aggressively seek to address our own contributions to the climate crisis,” said Robinson.

Students have been coordinating in a similar effort to promote sustainable development throughout the university. Penn State students Divya Jain and Joshua Adams spoke on behalf of a climate action working group, a student led coalition that has been has been gathering support throughout the Penn State community to improve Penn State’s current climate commitments. This working group is gathering signatures through their website for its climate action plan petition. The petition outlines goals which include reaching zero carbon emissions by 2040 and reallocating part of the existing student fee towards sustainability initiatives.

Mark Sentesy, assistant professor of philosophy and classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, and Nichole van Beek, assistant teaching professor with the School of Visual Arts, were the final speakers of the afternoon as they spoke about Climate Crossover, an initiative designed to bring climate issues into courses across the university. They discussed their approach to interdisciplinary issues related to climate change that focus on organized workshops and facilitating connections between disciplines. This year 40 faculty joined Climate Crossover, with a combined reach of approximately 1800 students. The University Park Undergraduate Association supported the initiative, and plans for a Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 Climate Crossover are underway.

Alongside the webinar, the Sustainability Institute invited attendees to make a pledge toward a more sustainable future for Earth Day. The pledge asked attendees, “What is one thing you pledge to do individually and one thing you pledge to do collectively to advance a sustainable future for us all?” Over 115 people have responded, making pledges to take actions such as planting native trees and plants, voting in all elections and volunteering with organizations with eco-friendly goals.

“More than 200 people gathered virtually to learn more about how Penn State is addressing carbon and climate challenges,” said Shrivastava. “It’s evident that many people are interested in the status of these initiatives, and the Sustainability Institute will continue to support and share information about them throughout the year.”

A complete recording of the webinar can be viewed here and "50 for 50" pledges will continue to be collected by the Sustainability Institute throughout the year. Pledges can be made here.


Last Updated May 01, 2020