BY AVA BLUM-CARR ’21
Last month, Mount Holyoke’s Board of Trustees convened in New York City and decided to accept the Sustainability Task Force’s cornerstone goal of becoming a carbon-neutral campus by 2037. Still, to some students on campus, the Board’s decision last April to vote against divestment from fossil fuels serves as a reminder of the limitations of this long-term carbon neutrality goal.
Achieving carbon neutrality by 2037, Mount Holyoke’s bicentennial, was a central recommendation of the exhaustive report released by the Sustainability Task Force this past October. The report discussed in detail many different ways in which the College could improve its policies regarding sustainability and the environment.
The concept of carbon neutrality refers to balancing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by removing an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere by means of sequestration. Carbon emissions can be reduced by transitioning to more energy-efficient systems and converting to renewable energy sources.
According to a new statement released by the Task Force, the College will pursue carbon neutrality through these methods, as well as investing in conservation and retrofitting the campus’s historic buildings. The progress being made towards this goal will be assessed every five years.
“The Board of Trustees’ approval of the carbon neutrality goal was done after deliberate discussion and is an essential step in directing the College toward carbon neutrality,” said Nancy Apple, associate director for Sustainability at the Miller Worley Center for the Environment.
However, Marissa Patterson ’18, an organizer within Mount Holyoke’s Climate Justice Coalition, views the carbon neutrality goal as a step in the right direction, but one that does not go far enough.
“I still see a commitment to fossil fuel divestment as a key piece of the College’s sustainability plans moving forward,” said Patterson. “The commitment to carbon neutrality seems especially empty considering the Board of Trustees refused to commit to fossil fuel divestment regardless of the timeline.”
According to Patterson, when the Climate Justice Coalition was engaged in negotiations with the Board of Trustees regarding divestment, the Board was unwilling even to consider an open-ended goal of eventual divestment, with no explicit time frame attached to it. “If they [were] unwilling to make this statement, then I seriously question their commitments to carbon neutrality,” said Patterson.
“I hope that students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members are able to see the difference between a commitment to carbon neutrality and full divestment,” said Patterson. “Mount Holyoke still has money indirectly invested in the fossil fuel industry and as long as we continue to, this institution will continue to tacitly endorse all the actions and consequences of the fossil fuel industry.”
The Task Force’s report of the Board’s decision states that Mount Holyoke is committed to fostering a campus culture of sustainability, by way of reducing the school’s carbon footprint and teaching the next generation of environmental leaders. Apple affirmed the importance of eventually becoming carbon-neutral as a crucial part of this effort.
“The carbon neutrality goal recognizes the collective responsibility for climate action work toward a more sustainable and equitable world, starting right here on campus,” said Apple.
“The College can, should and must do better. The fate of its current and future students relies on it,” said Patterson. “If the Board and the administration are serious about the ‘change-making’ and ‘global leadership’ and ‘purposeful engagement with the world’ rhetoric they preach, they need to put their money where their mouth is and demonstrate that leadership.”