Horwitz: CWRU needs a Green New Deal

Avi Horwitz, Staff Writer

Following the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report—which was declared a “Code Red for Humanity”—climate reporter Kate Aronoff wrote about democratic politicians’ love affair with strong climate rhetoric without action backing it up. To her, “[t]his is climate denial. These politicians don’t dispute that the climate is changing, but they are absolutely in denial about what curbing it would entail.” A direct parallel can be drawn to the leadership, or lack thereof, from the administration of Case Western Reserve University, which led to the burden to fall on the undergraduate population to create a better sustainable environment at CWRU. 

The most glaring example is CWRU’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). A cursory read of the plan shows a heavy emphasis on individual responsibility, however, this is not a fair basis for creating any real change. The concept of the individual carbon footprint was created by British Petroleum (BP) to shift the blame for emissions away from corporations and onto the individual.

While individual actions like recycling and being conscious of turning off the lights in your residence hall are commendable, the scientific consensus is clear that only dramatic, systemic changes—regarding how our society and the global economy is structured—will meaningfully address the crisis at hand. 

Framing impactful climate action as an individual effort plays right into the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda playbook, as it will fail to significantly decrease the university’s carbon emissions. The electricity, steam and chilled water that powers CWRU is responsible for approximately 77% of the university’s yearly emissions. The 2011 CAP details no plans to meaningfully transition away from procuring these resources from the natural gas-powered Medical Center Company power plant. The hard truth is that the current CAP does not offer a realistic, or much of any, pathway for necessary emissions reductions. The report itself states that “even using all of the best conservation practices and cost-effective technologies known to be available at this time leaves the university with a significant shortfall beginning around 2020.” Yet, the report fails to consider basic steps, such as implementing on-site renewable energy options. The surface-level failures of this plan would lead one to assume that the Office of Energy and Sustainability (OES) would make vast improvements in the five-year increments within the plan. However, over the last ten years, not a single update has been issued. 

Due to the university’s absence of leadership to implement a proper plan, undergraduates have taken on the responsibility to craft a new vision for sustainability at CWRU. This past summer, undergraduate students, including myself, Sunrise CWRU and the Student Sustainability Council (SSC), initiated actions that realistically fulfill the university’s self-stated core values and obligations to curb its emissions. Our proposal entails a new long-term vision to achieve a campus powered with 100% renewable energy by 2030 through a just and fair transition. The proposal also creates pathways to high-wage, dignified and low-carbon jobs that ensure prosperity and economic security. Furthermore, the plan includes sustainability investing in infrastructure, securing clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature and a sustainable environment. Not only does the project promote sustainability for the CWRU population, but also justice and equity through repairing and preventing oppression of Indigenous populations, communities of color, migrant communities, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities and the LGBTQIA+ community. 

It is clear that we need a Green New Deal for CWRU. As the work on a formal proposal and action steps that fulfill this vision continues, we ask students, faculty, staff, alumni and local residents to sign on in support of our guiding framework. Those who are comfortable with maintaining the status quo of descending into climate catastrophe, which is already costing lives and sentencing millions more to death, will try to say this plan is too ambitious. But when they do, remember that they are the same ones telling you that continued usage of natural gas is the realistic path for climate action. That is climate denial, plain and simple.