The first step in a high-stakes journey was taken Tuesday, Feb. 16, when President Sean Decatur officially began the march toward carbon neutrality at Kenyon.
In a ceremony held in Peirce Pub, Decatur signed the carbon component of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging Kenyon to a goal of carbon neutrality at a time yet to be determined but decades in the future.
This summer a group of students, in collaboration with faculty and staff, will launch a greenhouse emissions inventory as the foundation for a development plan expected to be completed in two years. The plan will include a target year for carbon neutrality, probably near 2040.
Decatur described the official signing as “an exciting moment,” as much for the importance of counteracting climate change as for the collaborative process involving student engagement that brought Kenyon to this point.
“This is a big moment in time for humanity,” he said. “When you look at the (climate-change) data, it’s astounding.” Calling on the optimism that Decatur said is vital for a college president, he shared a confidence that climate change can be reversed.
Carbon neutrality at Kenyon will be reached through a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases combined with the purchase of carbon offsets to compensate for any emissions that remain. “We’re making a commitment to something that is not inexpensive,” said David Heithaus ’99, director of green initiatives, who will oversee the plan’s development.
By signing the pledge, “We have to meet certain benchmarks and submit annual reports,” Heithaus said. “Nobody is going to come arrest us if we don’t do it, but there is plenty of pressure to reach our goal. That is why we are obliged to submit a realistic plan.”
Kenyon joins hundreds of other colleges and universities in the commitment to climate change and sustainability, including carbon neutrality.
The official signing ceremony included a Heithaus presentation on the threat that climate change poses to the planet and the story behind the student group that provided the momentum for the signing. The drive toward a carbon-neutral campus began with a class project and independent study that determined — with the establishment in July of the Office of Green Initiatives, among other factors — the College was ready for a carbon commitment. Support from the Kenyon College Board of Trustees, Decatur and the Senior Staff set the stage for the historic signing.
“To make a carbon neutrality plan is going to be a pretty large student project that is going to require a lot of conversation and effort,” said Matthew Meyers ’17, Student Council sustainability chair and co-coordinator of the Environmental Campus Organization. “It’s going to take a long time to achieve carbon neutrality.”
Meyers, an environmental economics major from Roanoke, Virginia, joined Sarah Oleisky ’16, a psychology major from Owings Mills, Maryland, and Lauren Johnstone ’15 in an independent study group that worked with Siobhan Fennessy, Philip and Sheila Jordan Professor in Environmental Studies, to launch the initiative.
Decatur emphasized the role of the College as a member of the local and global community and the importance of setting an example of proper stewardship of resources. And he mentioned a key aspect of the liberal arts education — “understanding what it means to be a good citizen.”
After signing the document, Decatur said, “Yes, we are on our way.”