Op-Ed: Tufts should commit to 100 percent renewable energy

Climate change is sometimes called a “public policy problem from hell.” The science proving that greenhouse gases produced by human activity are warming our climate is undeniable, yet here in the U.S., these dire warnings haven’t translated into policies that will protect us. In fact, at the federal level, the current administration is determined to roll back what little progress we’ve made.

That doesn’t mean that America is making no progress on climate action. After the Trump Administration pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, 2,732 leaders from America’s states, cities, companies and college campuses — including Tufts — signed on to We Are Still In, a massive coalition of signatories pledging to act on climate and to maintain their commitment to the Paris Agreement in the federal government’s stead.

Meanwhile, it’s becoming clearer by the day that clean and renewable energy can replace fossil fuels. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, as presented in an Environment America report, the U.S. could power itself 10 times over with the wind energy we have the technical potential to harness, we could power ourselves 100 times over with potential solar energy.

It’s clear that we need to move away from fossil fuels to a 100 percent renewable energy future. Where the federal government stalls, universities have a chance to lead.

As institutions with lots of local influence, as centers of innovation and expertise and as communities of future leaders who are highly engaged on the issue of climate change, universities that make commitments to renewable energy have the potential to spur their communities and states into action.

This is why Tufts should commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The Tufts community broadly supports this: This month, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate passed a resolution calling on Tufts to make this commitment, backed by the signatures of over 600 students.

Tufts has already made some important strides on fighting climate change and further deterioration to the environment. Solar installations on the Medford and Grafton campuses are measurably reducing our emissions. The university’s new buildings, most notably the SEC, are models for energy conservation.

Perhaps most importantly, in 2016, University President Anthony Monaco signed a commitment to move the university toward carbon neutrality, which means that the university’s carbon emissions would be less than or equal to the amount of carbon we offset through other actions, like paying to preserve carbon-absorbing forests.

This commitment is important because it shows that Tufts is serious about doing something to help our society avoid the worst effects of climate change. But Tufts can go one step further and move entirely away from fossil fuels by making a specific and public commitment to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. That means completely clean and renewable electricity, powering electric heating and cooling in our buildings, as well as a university vehicle fleet that’s entirely electric.

In December, Boston University committed to 100 percent renewable electricity; Harvard University has committed to going fossil fuel-free by 2050. Across the country, other prominent universities are making commitments to 100 percent, including Cornell University, Hampshire College and Colorado State University.

Tufts should rise to the occasion and make a strong commitment too. In doing so, we’d show our community and our state — and most importantly our students, who are about to confront the problem of climate change head on — that the kind of bold commitment we need to make to stop climate change is doable.