By Peter Bardaglio, Senior Fellow, Second Nature
Welcome to the October-November 2012 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an electronic update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).
Student Divestment Movement at Cornell and IC Heats Up
By K.C. Alvey, TCCPI Assistant Coordinator and 350.0rg Field Organizer
As part of a national 20-city tour called “Do the Math,” Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and other well-known speakers have hit the road this fall to call attention to what McKibben calls ”Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” As McKibben wrote in his now famous Rolling Stone article this past July, the fossil fuel industry currently has 2,795 gigatons of carbon in proven coal, oil, and gas reserves, five times more than the maximum 565 gigatons the world can emit and keep warming below 2°C, a target scientists widely agree is necessary to prevent runaway climate change.
In the lead-up to “Do the Math,” students across the country launched fossil fuel divestment campaigns at over 30 college campuses, taking campus sustainability to the next level. Here
in Tompkins County, Cornell University and Ithaca College students are joining the movement to leverage nearly $400 billion in university endowments across the country to take on the climate crisis. As part of a national movement, students are calling for trustees and administrators to commit to 100 percent divestment from the fossil fuel industry and to reinvest these funds in sustainable, socially responsible investments.
At At both Cornell and Ithaca College, student groups have been working hard this fall to build student support and raise awareness about this important campaign. Through teach-ins, petitioning, social media, letters to the editor, and actions at their respective board of trustees meetings, students are making the moral urgency of this campaign clear.
Cornell’s student group KyotoNOW is calling for 100 percent fossil fuel divestment for the university’s $5 billion endowment by 2020. According to Madeline Tingle, Cornell ’16, “It is critical that the trustees begin this transition to more responsible investments now to maintain the endowment’s long-term financial sustainability and to reflect Cornell’s commitments to carbon neutrality.” She observed that the endowment is intended to provide support for the university’s educational mission, which includes public service and responsible stewardship.
With an endowment of over $200 million, Ithaca College’s Environmental Leadership & Actions Network has set a goal of complete divestment from the fossil fuel industry by 2015, full transparency regarding IC’s endowment and investments, and the creation of a task force to monitor socially responsible investment. Jessie Braverman, Ithaca College ’16 said that she felt “confident that we can change the world, starting with this crucial step of influencing Ithaca College and other schools across the country to divest from fossil fuels.”
Students are clear that they want their institutions to reinvest in socially responsible ways and are looking into sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. In October, Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, spoke at Cornell about one promising alternative, green revolving loan funds. Orlowski is leading the Billion Dollar Green Challenge for universities across the country to invest in energy efficiency upgrades on campus using revolving loan funds. These upgrades often have a short payback period and are considered low-risk investments.
Orlowski said that the average return on investment for existing green revolving loan funds to date are an impressive 28 percent. He also highlighted the potential for Ithaca and Tompkins County to be a model in terms of campus-community collaboration around socially responsible investment. He discussed how the same green revolving loan fund structure could be applied to the community to invest in energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy locally. Through community investing, universities can jump start the clean energy economy regionally, help reduce our carbon footprint, and create much-needed jobs.
“Even before the ‘Do The Math’ tour, students across the country have begun demanding that their colleges divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in sustainability,” said Dan Apfel, executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition. “Over 30 campus groups are already running campaigns — twenty new ones in just the past six weeks. This is the start of something big.”
TCCPI and Other Offices at 109 S. Albany St. Go Solar
by Theresa Ryan, Taitem Engineering
Taitem Solar Systems, a division of Taitem Engineering, recently completed the installation of a 6.7 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) array on the roof at 109 South Albany Street to further the building’s progress toward net-zero energy consumption. Taitem installed 28 solar panels which will produce around 6,600 kWh per year. This array will provide approximately 110% of the buildings current electricity usage. When natural gas is included in the analysis, the building will use 80 percent less energy than it did compared to when the building was bought 10 years ago, through a combination of energy conservation and the new solar system.
Net-zero energy, a goal that owner Ian Shapiro hopes to achieve, is a term used to describe a building with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually. Some zero-energy buildings are independent from the energy grid supply. Energy can be harvested on site, usually through a combination of energy producing technologies like solar and wind, while reducing the overall use of energy with extremely efficient insulation, HVAC improvements, and lighting technologies. Solar panels are a great step toward achieving this goal.
A deep energy retrofit was performed during the past few years to reduce heating energy use. The improved basement insulation and window performance, meticulous air sealing, mechanical ventilation, and correctly sized high-efficiency mechanical systems take an existing building’s energy usage below that of a typical building. Deep retrofits increase air-tightness and decrease heat loss, dramatically reducing heating energy use. After upgrades were completed at 109 South Albany, gas use was reduced by 70%.
Come check out the solar panels at 109 South Albany and stop by for a tour of the Taitem office building (110 South Albany) across the street. Taitem specializes in mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural design, commissioning, LEED consulting, energy-efficiency consulting, research, training, and solar installation. Principles of sustainability and green design inform all aspects of Taitem’s work.
November is Waste Diversion Month with Get Your Greenback!
Let’s celebrate “Waste Diversion” month with Get Your Greenback Tompkins this November.
- Aerosol Cans
- Aluminum Foil
- Aluminum Pie Plates
- Paper Milk & Juice Cartons
- Pizza Boxes
- Plastic 5-gallon Buckets
- Plastic Berry Containers
- Plastic Cups
- Plastic Flower Pots
- Plastic Take-out Containers
To learn more about recycling in Tompkins County, please visit RecycleTompkins.orgor call us at 273-6632. As part of “Waste Diversion” month, take steps to practice the 4Rs, and be sure to share your steps and learn more at GetYourGreenBack.organd visit us at Facebook for a chance to win a “Super Recycling Bin” and other fun, practical prizes.
One Last Thing
We all know that a clear, predictable, and fair national policy encouraging investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy is the key to any real, viable solution to avoiding runaway climate change. If this is the case, then why does the overwhelming bulk of our federal tax dollars go to subsidizing the oil, coal, and gas industries and not clean energy? Why are the tax credits that support the fossil fuel industry permanent and unchallengeable? Why are the tax credits that support renewable energy temporary and constantly up for grabs?
According to a 2010 Environmental Law Institute study, the U.S. government provided $72 billion between 2002 and 2008 to the fossil fuel industry. About $54 billion of that total took the form of permanent tax credits for oil, coal, and natural gas producers. During that same period, the renewable energy industry received only $29 billion, most of it also in the form of federal tax credits. The difference is that none of the renewable energy tax credits are permanent.
Of course, as David Roberts writes in Grist, “Comparisons of direct subsidies capture only the tip of a giant iceberg – most of fossil fuels’ big advantages are invisible, beneath the surface, and entirely taken for granted.” Even a quick glance at the indirect subsidies makes clear how uneven the playing field is. External costs such as the public health toll paid for air and water pollution and the national security price of maintaining our addiction to oil amount to trillions of dollars.
Then there are the costs of climate change as superstorms such as Sandy become more frequent and violent. Early estimates of the damage from Sandy range up to $50 billion. And let’s not forget the enormous sunk costs of an infrastructure built on the assumption of cheap fossil energy: highways, suburbs, airports, and the like.
Viewed in this light, as Roberts vividly observes, shifting ”from fossil fuels to renewable energy is not like going from Coke to Pepsi; it is to build a new world.” Not even Nate Silver, as good as he is, can tell us how long this new world will take to build and whether we will get far enough along in time to stave off runaway climate change. But one thing we should all be clear about: it’s long past the time to get started, and a national energy policy geared towards this future is an essential first step.