While solutions are needed to have an impact on the environment, Virginia Wesleyan University has taken steps to reduce its own carbon footprint and set further goals. Under President Greer, the university signed what was then “The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.”
In this commitment, VWU pledged to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. Under President Miller, the commitment was renamed and resigned as simply “The Climate Commitment.” The carbon neutrality dates were also updated with the hopes that the campus would be carbon-neutral by 2040.
“We laid out an agenda and I compliment Elizabeth Malcolm for this because it’s really her vision that is coming to fruition in a pretty comprehensive way,” President Scott Miller said. “Elizabeth sat down with me when I first came here, and outlined all these plans that she had had for years … I like to say whether you’re a preacher, teacher, lawyer, or politician, you’re going to come out of your experience at Virginia Wesleyan having a grasp of the importance of the environment, in your lives, and hopefully, we’ve instilled a sense of civic engagement.”
Each year, with a team of students, Professor of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and Director of Sustainability Dr. Elizabeth Malcom leads a greenhouse gas inventory of VWU. Over time, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on campus with the cooling and heating systems have occurred.
Currently, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions on campus is electricity. “We’re in discussions with our energy provider about swapping grids, and putting us on a grid that would be regenerative energy, moving toward wind and solar as our primary provider. I would expect that within the next year we’ll probably do that. It’s my hope that by 2026, our power on campus would be provided by the wind farm located off of Virginia Beach 27 miles out,” Miller said.
As the university becomes more energy efficient and relies more fully on renewable energy, this will assist in its goal to become carbon neutral.
Climatology, one of the upper-level Environmental Science courses offered at Virginia Wesleyan, is taught by Dr. Elizabeth Malcom. Climatology is the study of weather conditions in a specific area over a long period of time. This course studies both the history of climate and climate change both through natural systems and anthropological impacts.
“We’re painfully aware now a lot of the shift has to do with anthropological (human) effects on the climate. The production of greenhouse gasses and deforestation, those factors are increasing the change in what is normally a slow changing system,” sophomore Biology major and climatology student Marco Molino said.
This human impact on the environment that results in climate change affects every ecosystem on earth. “There are no isolated systems in the environment, everything is so connected,” sophomore Environmental Sciences major and climatology student Ellie Snowman said.
As opposed to the faster rate of human-caused climate change, these ecosystems can usually survive natural climate change through adaptation.
One of the most noticeable signs that climate change is occurring has been evident locally within the last months. On Feb. 23, a record temperature high of eighty-one degrees was recorded at the Norfolk International Airport. According to the Virginian-Pilot, the highest temperature previously recorded for Feb. 23 was seventy-nine degrees in 1975. Similarly, on March 20, a freeze warning was sent out.
“A hallmark of climate change is drastic and radical weather,” Molino said. Yet these sorts of weather extremes are often disregarded as being coincidental or even somewhat normal.
“The problem is that it does seem normal, our generation is growing up in this climatological event of extreme weather,” Molino said.
Malcolm discussed Project Drawdown which is a global initiative to help the world reduce or “draw down” the level of greenhouse gasses expelled into the atmosphere. In coordination with their mission, the Project Drawdown web page includes a solutions library with an extensive list of potential solutions to climate change.
“What they remind us is that we already have all the solutions we need; it’s just a matter of implementing them,” Malcolm said.
While human-caused climate change has become an inevitable part of life on earth, efforts seek to alleviate anthropogenic damage. Changes may not always be perceptible.
“The resulting benefit would be really delayed because the globe is such a big system and it will react really slowly to change. But that absolutely doesn’t mean we should stop working for it,” Molino said. This kind of climate advocacy is essential in preserving the ecosystems that would otherwise be irreparably harmed by climate change.
By Breanne Bessette