Carbon Footprint

In January 2014, Florida A&M University took an historic step by signing the American Colleges and Universities President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), now known as the Carbon Commitment.

By signing this commitment, FAMU has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are propelling climate change. The university has set a goal of eventual “climate neutrality” – meaning setting itself on a path to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to an effective net zero status through reduction and mitigation strategies. In order to meet these goals, FAMU has committed to:

  • Complete an inventory of emissions that will be updated every year
  • Set a target date and interim milestones for becoming climate neutral
  • Take short-term actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Integrate sustainability into the curriculum and make it part of the educational experience
  • Make our climate action plan, inventory, and progress reports publicly available

These FAQs explain why climate issues matter and how our campus is working to alleviate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. Why has FAMU made this climate commitment and how does it fit with FAMU's broader sustainability initiatives?
  2. What are greenhouse gases (GHGs) and how are they generated? 
  3. What is climate neutrality and how is it achieved?
  4. Why does the goal of climate neutrality matter, and how does it relate to society’s needs and human progress?
  5. Why do climate issues matter to students?
  6. What special roles can universities play in addressing climate change?
  7. What are the costs and benefits of implementing climate action plans?
  8. How does FAMU’s involvement relate to academic freedom?

References

1. Why has FAMU made this climate commitment, and how does it fit with FAMU’s broader sustainability initiatives?

FAMU has joined with other universities and colleges across the nation to take a leadership role in addressing one of the most urgent issues of our day. The climate commitment is linked with FAMU’s broad commitment to sustainability, which is leading to a growing number of sustainability initiatives across the university’s curriculum, including in environmental sciences, agriculture, allied and public health sciences, architecture, engineering, social sciences, business, law and journalism. Addressing climate change and broader sustainability issues strengthens FAMU as a 21st century research institution and living laboratory of innovations and learning experiences, while also enhancing career preparation and opportunities for students.

Actions are being coordinated by the FAMU Sustainability Institute (SI), established in 2014 to be a hub for the many sustainability-related activities on campus and to advance the university's mission to be a leader in sustainability research, teaching and service.

2. What are greenhouse gases (GHGs) and how are they generated?  

A greenhouse gas is any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere, trapping heat in the atmosphere and preventing it from radiating from Earth toward space (NASA). These gases warm the Earth, causing the “greenhouse effect” by absorbing the heat. Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (O3), and fluorinated gases including perfluorinated carbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), as well as sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

Greenhouse gases are generated through natural processes and through human activities. Natural processes include animal, plant and soil respiration, decomposition, and volcanoes.

There has been an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 397.64 parts per million in the last 150 years due to industrial activities associated with modernization. The main human sources of greenhouse gas emissions are: fossil fuel production and use (burning coal, natural gas and oil), transportation, deforestation, intensive livestock farming, landfills and waste, agriculture, use of synthetic fertilizers, and industrial processes like cement and wood products manufacturing.

Although greenhouse gases are generated from a variety of everyday activities, electricity and transportation produce the most GHGs in the United States. Major greenhouse gases from human activity include: carbon dioxide (CO2) 54.7%, methane (CH4) 30%, Nitrous oxide (N2O) 4.9%, Fluorinated gases 0.6% and other gases 9.8%.

For more information, check here.

3. What is climate neutrality and how is it achieved?

Climate neutrality is defined by ACUPCC as, “having no net greenhouse gas emissions.” This goal is achieved by minimizing GHG emissions through aggressive conservation actions and improvements in energy efficiency; switching to low-or no- impact energy sources (renewable energy) instead of fossil-fuel burning energy; adopting practices to sequester carbon dioxide; and then investing in clean energy technologies or financially contributing to clean energy projects to offset emissions that remain. The goal is to achieve climate neutrality on a large-scale at the earliest time possible, due to the current and predicted speed and scale of global warming.

4. Why does the goal of climate neutrality matter, and how does it relate to society’s needs and human progress?

A warming climate is already having large-scale adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects on communities at all scales in locations across the globe, including in Florida.   Negative impacts from climate change include increased frequency and potency of extreme weather events, sea level rise, species extinctions, water shortages, shifting and declining agricultural production, and spread of diseases and invasive species. The impacts are particularly pronounced for low-income communities and developing countries. Effects on the state of Florida include increased beach erosion, salt water encroachment into drinking water sources from sea level rise, impacts on the state’s important agriculture industry, and the spread of exotic invasive species. Institutions that measure and take steps to reduce their air pollutant emissions can positively impact the health of the campus community, as well as the health of their local communities and regions.

Climate Change Solutions

5. Why do climate issues matter to students?

The effects of climate change are boundless. Climate issues affect food security; human health and well-being; social, national and international security; migration; immigration; population growth; urbanization; economic development and viability; infrastructure development and availability; land use; water quality and quantity; air quality, and social and cultural identity. As future professionals, leaders, teachers, and family members, students are stakeholders in the success of adapting to and mitigating climate change. Sustainability issues are relevant to every career, although some careers more directly than others. As individuals and professionals, students should be concerned now and start taking the steps that will prepare them to face and change the unpredictable future of climate variability.

Students are learning and seeing the impacts and reactions of their own actions, and some would like to learn how to practice living a more sustainable life. Students want a better future not only just for themselves, but for the elderly and children who are sometimes neglected and voiceless. A sustainable present is the right direction for a sustainable future. Therefore, students are concerned about the endangered and disappearing species; habitat health; sicknesses and diseases; droughts; waste generation, management and disposal; location and proximity of landfills; extreme weather events; and cost of living. Although the future is unpredictable, students desire the tools and training on how to be prepared and adaptable for themselves, their families, and communities to face tomorrow.

The Effects of Climate Change

6. What special roles can universities play in addressing climate change?

Institutions of higher education can support efforts to becoming less dependent on activities and energy sources that are harmful to communities and the environment. In their role for preparing, teaching and training students to enter the workforce, these institutions “have the opportunity to create cultures ofsustainability for today’s students, and to set their expectations for how the world should be” (International Alliance of Research Universities). When students leave college/university, they take not only their education but also their behavior into the outside world.

Higher learning institutions can help to shape students through curriculum, projects, service and outreach, and serve as a model for the larger community. Colleges/universities must therefore, incorporate climate change and sustainability awareness into the educational experience of future leaders and professionals and be open to share their practices so that other residential, educational and commercial institutions may learn and adopt the successes. In playing the role of a true living-learning environment – a community within communities, especially those that cater to diversity and public service – colleges/universities have a true potential of sowing the right seeds and creating stewards of natural resources.

Colleges/universities must take aggressive actions to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions (principally carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion). This will require the engagement of all people involved or impacted, as well as, multi-, inter/intra and cross-disciplinary collaborations. Read more here.

7.What are the costs and benefits of implementing climate action plans?

Costs include: expenses for implementing energy efficiency retrofits and alternative energy systems; costs for installing systems for tracking status of energy use and progress toward emissions reduction (“smart” technologies); costs for conducting research and developing curriculum; expenses for creating effective outreach programs; costs for providing training/education to campus leaders and groups; and costs for providing rewards and incentives where applicable. Other indirect human capital costs come from the need for leadership for institutional change to revamp reporting systems and to solicit broad-based top-down and bottom-up institutional support and commitment.

Benefits include: financial savings from reduced energy costs and investment in a campus that has greater long-term value; existence of a plan that is visible and sets forth clear goals for action; the ability to track progress; accountability for outcomes; opportunities for continuous adaptive management to seize opportunities; and use of the climate action planning to catalyze broader efficiencies across institutional silos.The process facilitates helping our institution and civilization at large to thrive. Faculty, staff and students become part of the voice and scientific consensus on the importance of conserving and protecting our national resources.

When done properly, climate action planning creates a new foundation for growth, prosperity and peace that can transcend campuses, communities and borders, through fostering sustainable practices. Through proper implementation and execution, climate action plans can help to prepare future professionals and leaders for a competitive and successful post-carbon economy and serve as role-models for the rest of society, demonstrating that shifting away from fossil fuels can provide economic, social and environmental benefits.

Read more at President's Climate Commitment.

8. How does FAMU’s involvement relate to academic freedom?

FAMU is a place where people of diverse backgrounds with different points of view and beliefs are encouraged to participate in discussions about climate change. The Climate Commitment states that addressing climate change transcends political ideology and affects the long-term viability of society.

FAMU’s membership in the Climate Commitment demonstrates that the leadership of the university supports and encourages addressing climate change as a vital issue; as a signatory initially to the ACUPCC, now the Climate Commitment, FAMU agrees to promote education on climate issues and sustainability in ways that are appropriate within the confines and community of the institution. The Commitment does not dictate what is taught and/or the method of teaching and learning. By encouraging and facilitating faculty to engage students explicitly in these topics, and opening the dialogue around these topics on campus, the president can fulfill the terms of the commitment.

Sources and references:

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, 2007

United States Global Change Research Program, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," Cambridge University Press, 2009

Naomi Oreskes,"The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,"Science 3 December 2004: Vol. 306 no. 5702 p. 1686 DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases.html

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html#greenhouseeffect

http://www.epa.gov/climatestudents/basics/today/greenhouse-gases.html

http://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gas-sources

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf.

http://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

http://co2now.org

http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/about/faqs#26

Source:www.climateneutralcampus.com; Simpson W. A Reality Check.

Sustainability @ FAMU

Sustainability at Florida A&M University is about the teaching, research and application of environmental and resource stewardship so people and planet prosper. The Sustainability Institute serves as the hub of all sustainability-related efforts at the university, bringing students, staff, faculty and the community together around creative collaborations.

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