This is no longer a topic for debate. There is a 97% consensus among peer-reviewed scientific research that human beings are causing global warming. The Academies of Science in over 80 countries concur.
The topic for discussion is what if anything can be done to slow and/or curb the alarming rate at which the earth’s temperatures are rising.
The work of our colleges and universities is to conduct research that develops strategies to improve what is becoming an ever-bleaker climatological future. In spite of some of the loudest voices refuting the truth of our current circumstances, progress is being made internationally and locally.
Britain, whose nineteenth-century factories were described by William Blake as “Dark Satanic Mills,” has just gone an entire week without using coal fires. This is true for the first time since 1882.
On our own shores, alternative energy sources are in the ascendancy. CNN reported that this April renewable energy would surpass coal in the U.S. for the first time since the industrial revolution.
In addition to research, higher education institutions have the opportunity to adopt and test best practices and model those choices for their students and surrounding communities. We have the ability to develop citizen leaders who are committed being responsible stewards of our finite natural resources.
The most provocative lessons can be derived from institutions that make bold and consequential improvements in how they source and conserve energy and how they reduce their carbon footprints.
In less than a decade, Susquehanna University went from being one of the Sierra Club’s vilified institutions that burned coal to one of its “Cool Schools.”
The University shut down its centralized coal-fired steam plant and shifted heating to building-specific, high-efficiency gas boilers. This not only greatly reduced pollution, but also eliminated tremendous energy losses. Some buildings are now using geothermal heating and cooling.
Last fall, Susquehanna began using a new solar field, the largest at any college or university in Pennsylvania, to produce approximately 30% of its electricity. This solar array was featured in an article in the current edition of enerG Alternative Sources Magazine. Even the lawn mowing around the solar array is responsibly being completed by a flock of sheep.
These improvements were all good business. The University will ultimately save money on energy costs. More importantly, these efforts are driven by our mission. Each new initiative helps us to prepare students to replicate and initiate similar efforts in the businesses and communities they will help lead after graduation.
Global warming is real, and I am thankful that we are preparing our students to lead efforts to improve our likelihood of a habitable future.