President Daniel Bernstine has signed a commitment that vows to reduce and offset all carbon emissions created by Portland State. The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is part of a national effort by colleges or universities to recognize the effects of global warming.
President commits to carbon emission reduction
President Daniel Bernstine has signed a commitment that vows to reduce and offset all carbon emissions created by Portland State.
The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is part of a national effort by colleges or universities to recognize the effects of global warming. It has already been signed by 73 schools. Bernstine signed the commitment on Feb. 7, making PSU the second signatory in Oregon.
“This is a no-brainer,” said David Ervin, professor of environmental science and coordinator of academic sustainability programs at PSU.
The commitment calls global warming a fact, a statement still contested by some scientists. The commitment says that humans have been the largest factor behind global warming, and says that it is the role of institutes of higher education to help reduce the amount of carbon emissions produced.
The university plans to cut the use of even the most basic services that emit carbon. Electricity use, commuting by car, and air travel funded by PSU all release carbon that has damaging effects on the ozone layer.
Ervin said that the first few steps of the program will not cost anything except time. These steps are aimed to determine the amount of carbon released and to eliminate things that cause carbon emissions where possible.
“I don’t think it has to be overly costly,” Ervin said. “The biggest challenge will be commuting.”
PSU is a commuter college and Ervin said the university will begin to push public transportation to lessen the amount of carbon released by cars.
A larger cost to the university will come later, with the purchase of carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are actions taken to neutralize the effect of carbon released.
A common method of offsetting carbon is planting trees. By planting a certain amount of trees, which absorb carbon, the amount of carbon produced by an action is balanced out.
The commitment is supported by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), a group that works to help universities with sustainability. Other supporters are ecoAmerica and Second Nature, two more organizations dedicated to environmentalism.
President Bernstine became a member of the Leadership Circle, a group of presidents who campaign for signatures at major universities in the United States, when he signed the commitment.
The first stage of the commitment involves the development of committees and support networks to help with the project. PSU already has a steering group of 11 members to help with the commitment.
The 11 students, faculty and staff volunteers are part of a parallel effort called Focus the Nation. This is another national program dedicated to creating a dialogue about global warming and the causes of and solutions for it.
Two new senior capstones are being developed to help with the project. The capstones will enlist students to help determine the carbon footprint of PSU. Carl Wamser, professor of chemistry, will be teaching at least one capstone.
PSU will be used as a model of sustainability, showing how to devise new ways of being carbon neutral. A microturbine will be set up as a demonstration, and a solar array will be put on top of Cramer Hall.
Ervin said that carbon neutrality is beneficial for PSU in the long run. Wind and solar power will eliminate dependence on fossil fuels.
Universities, the commitment says, serve as role models for the community. SustainLane, an online database that promotes sustainability, named Portland as the number one sustainable city in the United States. Ervin said PSU has taken steps in the past to lessen environmental impact, such as becoming “salmon safe” and using environmentally friendly paint.
The signing by President Bernstine makes PSU the first school in the Oregon University System to make the commitment. The only other signatory in Oregon so far is Lane Community College. Ervin said he is not surprised that PSU was the first university to jump on board the program.
“It just says that we take this very seriously,” Ervin said. “The motto of PSU is ‘Let knowledge serve the city,’ and our role is to help keep that motto alive.”