Is it reasonable to assume a goal of achieving carbon neutrality?

I attended The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual Executive Leadership Forum in Washington, DC and had the opportunity to listen to a panel discussing the pros and cons of signing the Presidents Climate Commitment. David Oxtoby, President of Pomona College and former Dean of Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago, made a point which was similar to my thinking that he had some reservations about his and any institution’s ability to achieve carbon neutrality but thought that the process of examining efforts and pledging a commitment was important. Oxtoby earned his PhD in Physical Chemistry from UC-Berkeley and has the background to understand the scoring system. Another point that he made was that his institution does not and will not buy the emission credits that other institutions have purchased as he does not believe that the buyer can control the long term outcome (the owner of the forest could harvest the trees, for example). Mark Wrighton, Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, said that his institution had not signed the Commitment but discussed the many activities underway to reduce carbon emissions including supporting a light rail with five stops at WU and providing rail passes to employees. Kathleen Schatzberg, President of Cape Cod Community College and one of the charter signers of the Commitment, discussed her efforts to obtain state of Massachusetts approval for the first LEED-certified building at a state higher ed institution. Other efforts at her campus included converting 80 percent of previously mowed open space to meadows and receiving funding for a wind turbine. I left the session inspired by the efforts of the three institutions and their presidents.

When I returned home, I picked up the June 2008 issue of Wired magazine and noted that the cover article is about global warming and cutting carbon. The article titled “Inconvenient Truths” states that the war on greenhouse gases is too important to be left to the environmentalists. There are a few key points highlighted:

  1. live in cities
  2. A/C is ok
  3. organics are not the answer
  4. farm the forests
  5. China is the solution
  6. accept genetic engineering
  7. carbon trading doesn’t work
  8. embrace nuclear power
  9. used cars not hybrids
  10. prepare for the worst.

While I don’t have the background as a scientist as President Oxtoby does, many of these comments are based on scientific evidence and contrast with some of the environmentalists’ efforts. I recommend interested readers pick up a copy of the issue.

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