As world leaders gather at the United Nations climate change conference in France, the University of Florida is working to decrease its carbon footprint at home.
Megan Walker-Radtke, program coordinator at the UF Office of Sustainability, is helping the university shrink its carbon footprint and reach carbon neutrality by 2025. She said the university is working with We Are Neutral, a nonprofit organization that helps communities and businesses reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offset remaining emissions.
UF’s sustainability plan includes the use of a cogeneration power plant, which would use wasted heat from campus buildings to heat other buildings, Walker-Radtke said. This would make the plant 70 percent efficient, while a non-cogeneration power plant is only 35 percent efficient.
She said the university is also working closely with vendors at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to ensure it uses only compostable materials. Currently, volunteers sort through trash to separate compostable from recyclable materials during and after football games, she said. But the goal is a “zero-waste” stadium, in which only recycling and composting bins would be provided.
Walker-Radtke said reducing the use of anything that requires energy consumption could help. Use less water, turn off lights and use efficient modes of transportation, she said.
“A lot of these things are built into our system. Our society has grown up around the assumption that fossil fuels are cheap and available and don’t have consequences,” she said.
She also recommended wrapping insulation blankets around water heaters and focusing on maintaining a healthy, sustainable diet.
“The lower you eat on the food chain, the less energy is wasted in getting that nutrition to your body,” she said. “If you have 100 acres on a farm, you can feed a certain amount of people from those acres, or you can feed a certain number of cows, and then you can feed those cows to the people.”
Walker-Radtke said she hopes these personal and institutional efforts will help slow the world’s pressing climate-change problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined global warming temperature increases of more than 2 degrees Celsius would have serious consequences, including a significant rise in extreme climate events.
“There is no scientific controversy,” she said. “We think of climate as a contentious topic, but it’s only really contentious as a political issue, not as a scientific issue. The science is unequivocal that humans are causing the vast majority of observed climate change.”
Now, scientists have a very different goal. Walker-Radtke said scientists have stopped pondering the possible effects of global warming and are now examining solutions to stop its advancement.
Abhaya Thiele, coordinator of the Gainesville Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, said she believes political action is the most important thing an individual can do to combat climate change. The organization works on national legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Thiele and other participants meet with members of Congress and other legislators to advocate for political and legislative change. They also write op-eds and letters to newspaper editors to tell the public why these legislations are necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
She said the organization is pushing to create a steadily rising carbon fee on oil, gas and coal to make fossil fuels more expensive over time. This should help the economy transition to cleaner sources of energy, she said.
Thiele mentioned she has noticed a marked difference in the dialogue between the organization and political leaders, particularly with Republican members of Congress. She said they are now more willing to talk about solutions to climate change.
She said 12 members of Citizen’s Climate Lobby are currently at the conference in France lobbying for a carbon fee. She encourages individuals from local communities to engage in the political process and show others the urgency of taking national political action.
“Surely you and I can change our light bulbs to help conserve energy,” she said, “but more important than that is changing legislation.”