This past month, a huge milestone set climate change precedents, threatening the future of our planet. The global accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere crossed the 400 parts per million (ppm) mark, and is not predicted to be coming back down for a sustained period of time moving forward.
Studies indicate September is usually the time of the year when there is the least carbon in the planet’s atmosphere, as storage is at a peak in trees and forest vegetation in our region. However, this year, natural cycles have been permanently made askew, primarily as a result of human activities releasing this substance at alarming rates. The 400 ppm mark is matched by a trend of record breaking time periods for heat. In fact, August 2016 was the sixteenth consecutive hottest month on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2015 was the hottest year so far, and NASA claimed that 2016 is on track to beat these rankings.
Climate change is a global issue, with countless far-reaching impacts out of sight of most of our daily activities. But the key to ever finding a path towards a more sustainable future is to remember that every person’s individual actions factor into the larger issue at hand. While the total carbon in the atmosphere might be a concept too abstract to grasp, the amount of emissions generated by our campus is a more tangible approach.
Rider’s 2015 Greenhouse Gas Inventory reported our campus net emissions at 22,627 metric tons. The largest component of this total comes from building operations, including purchased energy, at 65 percent of our generated carbon. Consequently, this is the first sector to target in the push towards neutrality on campus. Projects are in place, like more efficient LED lighting in the Talbott Library and sensor lighting in North Hall, that help work towards the necessary changes. The Tri-Gen energy plant has contributed significantly in the reduction of purchased electricity and a drop in CO2 emissions. The most salient area for improvement comes from student action towards energy reduction. Simple steps, such as ensuring lights are not left on or vampire energy is not consumed by electronics not in use, complement the facilities initiatives to bring down our total emissions.
Another significant aspect of our campus greenhouse gas emissions comes from personal cars, bringing in about 23 percent of the total carbon emissions generated. With a large contingency of the student body consisting of commuters, this is an area that can be difficult to target. While hybrid and electric car options may still be out of range for a student budget, other measures can be taken to ensure that the drive to campus is efficient and less impactful. Some examples include finding another student along the route to carpool, keeping tires properly inflated, and avoiding idling. These steps also help keep money in your wallet, too, so a greener car could be in your future.
Susan Russo, a sophomore English literature major, is one student who relies on her personal vehicle to get to campus, commuting to class from her home in Jackson. She said, “I am a commuter because of two reasons: a lack of money, and the quality of the dorms here at Rider. I haven’t actually given the impact of my commuter status on the environment much thought.” However, learning more about issues like the recent 400 ppm discovery can help to connect these problems and inspire students to act. “It’s easy to recognize that there is a problem, but harder to realize that you are personally contributing to the problem in a major way, even if it doesn’t seem like it,” says Russo. Thinking about individual carbon emissions is the first step towards making a change.
Rider is dedicated to making a change in the amount of greenhouse gases we are releasing into the atmosphere, working towards the carbon neutrality goal of 2050 as a part of the Carbon Commitment. This past year, campus initiatives have led to an 8.61 percent reduction in emissions. With combined efforts between the campus and our student body, we can make strides towards bigger reductions in carbon each year.
Printed in the 10/05/16 issue.