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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Opinion-- A list of regrets before I graduate
Opinion-- A list of regrets before I graduate
Sal Wiertella March 1, 2024

Carbon Neutrality Proposal draft open for feedback

NMU shares plan to mitigate carbon emissions on campus.
Annamarie Parker/NW
CARBON NEUTRALITY — Jess Thompson and Kathy Richards host the first of several information sessions on NMU’s new Carbon Neutrality Proposal draft. Students are encouraged to attend future sessions and provide their input on the topic as it develops.

The Carbon Neutrality Task Force was created in 2021, and their draft for NMU’s Carbon Neutrality Proposal was recently released for public review and comment. This draft is outlined with values, strategies and goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, broken down into a series of emission reduction targets.

According to their website, NMU has already reduced their carbon footprint by more than 30% since 2010. Their future carbon emission targets are as outlined:

Target 1: Reduce emissions by a minimum of 25% by 2030

Target 2: Reduce emissions by a minimum of by a minimum of 50% by 2040

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Target 3: Reduce emissions by a minimum of 85% by 2050

Their strategies to reach these goals include the following:

  1. Reduce energy use
  2. Optimize infrastructure
  3. Right size – reduce physical campus footprint
  4. Invest in renewable energy
  5. Increase carbon sequestration

Their website also lists a number of values, including academic engagement, agility and adaptability, financial sustainability, reporting transparency and service reliability. 

The draft for the carbon neutrality proposal went further into these targets, strategies and values in their plan and they are looking for public feedback before the proposal is finalized. This can be done through an online feedback form or feedback sessions, either in-person or online. Two information sessions have already been held. The next two sessions will be today, Oct. 16 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Zoom, and on Oct. 19 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Jamrich 1322. 

The ultimate goal of this proposal is to reduce the amount of carbon emissions at NMU, which are a contributing factor to climate change. 

Sarah Mittlefehldt, professor of Earth, environment and geological sciences, has been involved in the development of this proposal and explained it will help mitigate the institution’s contributions to climate change, using different metrics and targets to map how NMU will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

“The plan includes two primary paths, the first involves reducing the amount of energy used on campus, the second involves investing in renewable energy,” Mittlefehldt said.

Students, staff and faculty have been clamoring for climate action at NMU for several years, Mittlefehldt said. 

“Ryan Stock in the department of Earth, environmental & geographical sciences was instrumental in getting an institutional commitment to carbon neutrality,” Mittlefehldt said. “In 2021, he organized a petition of over one thousand signatures and letters of support from 25 community organizations to encourage past NMU President Erickson and the Board of Trustees to make a commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050.”

She said that these dates align with goals outlined in international climate agreements as well as state and local carbon emission targets.

Mittlefehldt highlighted that even though the term “environmental justice” is not used in the draft of the Carbon Neutrality Plan, to her it is the most important thing about it.

“It points the way to more just and responsible ways of managing energy on campus. This plan is not just about reducing our environmental impact, but it is also about promoting equity and accountability in energy decisions,” Mittlefehldt said. “For over a century, NMU has been relying primarily on fossil fuels to heat and power the campus. The impacts of the fossil fuel industry are often felt most directly in faraway places, in frontline communities, on Indigenous land.”

This draft provides a framework to help Northern move in a new direction, she said. 

Reading over the draft on the Carbon Neutral Proposal’s website, viewers will also notice that there is a feedback survey. This is another way for people to get active and involved, bringing questions and ideas or even just comments to the forefront.

Mittlefehldt emphasized the importance of this, alongside attending the information sessions for the proposal draft.

“Once feedback from the survey and public forums have been incorporated, the final draft of the plan will help to provide a guide for decision making on campus,” Mittlefehldt said. 

She said that NMU has implemented energy saving measures, such as reducing the amount of space on campus that requires heat and power, as well as converting to LED fixtures. Mittlefehldt also mentioned changes like the recent Jacobetti Complex remodel and NMU’s plans to demolish old, outdated buildings.

She also pointed out another factor that was brought up on the draft, which is Northern’s already small footprint. She used this to compare NMU to schools like the University of Michigan, with their large hospital campus, and Michigan Tech, which she said has a lot of energy-intensive labs.

When asked about the certain time frames listed on this draft, Mittlefehldt explained that it was all for a reason.

“The 2050 date is based on a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that states that if the global economy is not carbon neutral by 2050, our species will surpass critical ecological tipping points,” Mittlefehldt said. “This date is the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement and is the target used in U.S. Climate Policy as well as the state of Michigan’s climate policy. NMU’s Carbon Neutrality Plan will help our institution align with these broader goals and be part of the solution to one of our species’ greatest challenges.”

For Kolibri Drobish, a Sustainability Hub for Innovation & Environment (SHINE) carbon neutrality program intern and third-year ecology major, this Carbon Neutrality Proposal draft still has many hurdles to overcome but is a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s too late for this … but I think having this now is a crucial moment, because as we’re seeing climate catastrophes all over the world, it’s happening now. And getting on this train as fast as we can, I think is really important,” Drobish said. “And some of these goals that the university has put forward are because of action items, ‘let’s do this now’, because we need this change to happen.”

Drobish said she thinks climate action has taken so long ultimately because many think climate change is 10 years down the road and not something to focus on now. Meanwhile it is coming faster than we ever thought it would and is hitting communities harder than we thought it could, she said. 

“We’re already screwed for what we’ve done … if we keep adding carbon to the atmosphere, it’s going to take generations after generations to get out,” Drobish said.

She admires this draft’s transparency that has included students from the carbon neutrality task board surrounding its creation, because students have been the drivers of really saying they want that change, so keeping them involved and getting their feedback is important. 

This inclusion of students in the draft process and in sustainability projects on campus is something that Eli Williams, fourth-year environmental studies and sustainability major, believes is integral to the success of these proposals and changes. 

“We’ve stopped denying that climate change is a thing, which in the U.S. is a pretty big deal. I know in other places that’s the bare minimum, but I think we’re getting there,” Williams said. “[NMU is] looking at things like ‘how can we do renewables?’ They’ve been saying we couldn’t for years, so it’s refreshing to finally hear, ‘oh, I guess we can – we’ll just have to do it a while from now’. But at least they’re saying it’s possible.”

Williams said she admires the plan but also acknowledges where it falls short in issues such as transportation. 

“NMU can never be carbon neutral if students are driving personal vehicles to class or if even professors are driving personal vehicles to class, because the university does not function in a vacuum, and everything that we do impacts the surrounding world and community. So, it doesn’t matter how much carbon just your building is producing,” Williams said. “You have to think about all the inputs into that building, how the people get there, how supplies get there.”

Also, reflecting on this plan, Williams noted the idea of minimizing building size to reduce excess heating energy and brought up the contradicting fact that some of these buildings were recently built, not just on campus but in the community. Williams also noted that there are large amounts of chemicals currently used in the fertilizers for the grassy areas all over campus that is not necessarily benefiting the environment either.

Officer Mike Bath, chief of the NMU Police Department and member of the board of climate change, also brought up another intention of the plan, which is converting campus vehicles – including those in the police department – into hybrid and economically friendly vehicles.

This is something that Kathy Richards, associate vice president of engineering, plant operations and facilities, said NMU has been trying to do for over two years. However, it takes time, and their supply is only so much.

“They need so many requests for a green vehicle to run the line,” Richards said. “So, it takes us over a year to even get a truck.”

She also talked about an electric vehicle charging station implementation plan in the future, if they do get a larger amount of electric vehicles on campus.

“This is like the initial initial plan, like the carbon neutrality plan, but as part of that plan, there [are] multiple projects that will come out of it,” Richards said.

Richards also talked about the campus master plan, which they often refer to more as the ‘opportunity plan’. This is something to which she compares the carbon neutrality plan, making gradual changes as funding becomes available.

She also mentioned the Green Fund’s contribution in helping to get things going, with an example of the solar panels outside of the SHINE building.

Jess Thompson, professor of business and member of the Carbon Neutrality Task Force, also recognizes and the students’ importance in everything.

“They move the needle on these things with a lot more efficiency than us faculty or staff can,” Thompson said.

She talked about people who have been here for years having a mindset of ‘that is never going to change’, but then some students stand up and they make it happen.

Students have a powerful voice, and she noticed that people who may feel like their time here is temporary leave really big legacies. Thompson recommends students getting involved in things like EcoReps and the SHINE program, and even just asking questions to advocate for change they want to see.

Williams is no stranger to the dedicated professors who put their time and hearts into the environment, as well as the students in the EEGS department, as somebody who has been involved around campus with a variety of organizations like Divest NMU, the Hoop House and the Conservation Crew.

“We studied the world through this sustainability lens, but other people are looking at it from a different perspective, and we have to respect that. But for me, this plan kind of represents what the university wants to be doing,” Williams said. “And I think they’re now understanding their impact, not just on the students, [but also] on the community, and on the world as a greater whole.”

She knows that these changes are not always easy, something with which many can sympathize. 

“It’s kind of uncomfortable, because a lot of times it involves personal sacrifice of things that make your life a lot easier, like people who try not to use as many single-use plastics, or people who try to walk right to campus,” Williams said. “So, you always have to remember that it’s not your fault that this is happening. You’re a contributing factor, of course, but you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself to be perfectly sustainable because that’s just not even a thing.”

Drobish reflected on how small one can feel sometimes, how lonely, impossible and scary in comparison to all of these problems it will take time to reroute. But it helps to find a certain group of people to unite with in a love for the environment and support positive change at an institutional level, such as with the new Carbon Neutrality Proposal draft.

“It’s small when you’re an individual, but no one is alone in this fight,” Drobish said. “There are so many people out there that are wanting the same things.”

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About the Contributor
Annamarie Parker, Copy Editor
I am an English, Writing major with a double minor in German and journalism. I'm also pursuing my TESOL certificate while working for Housing and Residence Life. I love to travel and meet new people.