Please, no more statements on climate change!
My Google search of climate change statements reveals some 7,020,000 responses.¬† Amazingly, both the University and College President’s Climate Change Statement of Action for Canada and President Fernhout’s opening blog on Greenpad show up as hits on the very first page of search results.¬† Way to go Greenpad!
King’s should join university initiatives from time to time, and has done so, but why this one?¬† Why are the University President’s doing this?¬† Universities are important social institutions and President’s exert major influence through them.¬† They are no doubt sincere in galvanizing their respective institutions into action on a critical global challenge.¬† But they are hardly leading.¬† Governments at all levels, numerous churches and civil society groups, and many corporations including energy companies, have had climate change action plans for some time.¬† Besides, most universities have had environmental policies and offices, campus suatainability audits, recycling programs, etc. for some time.¬† I don’t recall any Presidential statements around any of these important issues.¬† Managing the university’s carbon footprint is a responsible action, but it doesn’t need a statement.
Maybe its the “curb” appeal (the image of the university).¬† University Presidents know a PR opportunity when they see one.¬† The ink was barely dry on the signed Climate Change Statement and UBC and SFU issued media releases (13 & 14 March 2008).¬† Why didn’t University Presidents issue statements some 20 years ago, when their very own researchers were building the scientific basis for climate change, much to the chagrin of energy CEOs and affiliated politicians (Ralph Klein famously referred to greenhouse gases as dinosaur flatulence!).¬† Did the President’s sign because it is now publicly and politically safe?
What good is a signature without accountability?¬† The Climate Change Statement sets specific targets and timelines for implementation, and for public self-reporting of them.¬† Universities have considerable autonomy.¬† Who will monitor compliance?¬† How will they be held accountable?¬† A mechanism for external accountability is absent from the statement.¬† The recent economic downturn and its fiscal implications for universities may make it that much more difficult to adhere to commitments signed in March.
Enough about others.¬† What about King’s?¬† In addition to our acclaimed Environmental Studies program, we have a strong record of environmental stewardship on campus, especially through our students and the Facilities Department (note to President Fernhout: a PR opportunity!).¬† Facilities has made large gains in resource efficiency (water, energy), reducing utility bills considerably.¬† Students have verified these through campus audits for example.¬† But not all proposed actions take hold.¬† Compelling student proposals for an environmental management system (EMS) and a biowall in the North Wing atrium still await action.¬† Energy conservation in the North Wing was poorly incorporated in the building design.¬† Fiscal realities impose tough constraints (or maybe a skewed view of stewardship).
Rather than signing someone else’s generic Climate Change Statement, and slipping into the posture of active-ism that John Hiemstra warns against, let’s come up with our own.¬† Let’s identify the three, two or even one thing that would animate and excite us because it fits our community’s conviction to care for God’s creation.¬† Maybe it’s a biowall (cool!).¬† Or a “sustainability across the curriculum” initiative.¬† How about a sustainability office and staff person?¬† How about a Sustainability Fund with revenue from a proportion of utility bill savings, and a designated donation option?¬† Or a $15 (voluntary, tax deductible) personal fee imposed internally on each air ticket purchased to be matched by the institution?¬† A summer research student (or two) to complete a campus carbon footprint analysis?¬† Our faithful, creative imagining will be fit for a King!
But, please no more statements.
This post was authored by Dr. Harry Spaling, Vice-President Academic for The King’s University College in Edmonton, AB.