By John H. Adams
Today’s college students face a common challenge. One way or another, global climate change touches, or will touch, every aspect of their lives, from where they live and how they work to what they eat.
Colleges and universities have an obligation to prepare them to be part of the solution . Our leading research institutions have a special role to play in helping to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driving climate change, by showing how to shift away from the fossil fuels of the past toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.
A scheme by Duke Energy to foist a gas-fired power station on the Duke University campus would take us in exactly the wrong direction. The university wisely put the plan on hold on Friday. A public meeting April 10 is the chance for decision-makers to hear why they should abandon the project entirely.
That, though, would deepen our reliance on fossil fuel, erode the moral leadership of a great university and send students the message that they’re stuck with old habits that do more harm than good. We owe them better than that.
The university can lead by developing a plan to phase out natural gas use on campus. That means improving efficiency to cut energy waste and investing in heating and cooling systems that don’t rely on fossil fuels.
Duke Energy, the largest emitter of carbon pollution in the United States, needs to do its part by increasing its investment in clean energy and efficiency — and helping its customers do the same.
Solar power costs have plunged more than 70 percent since 2010. North Carolina is a solar power leader, with enough to service more than 430,000 homes. As technology improves and costs continue to fall, Duke University should be at the forefront of getting clean, homegrown, renewable power from the sun.
As university leaders weigh this decision, it’s important to remember who’ll have to live with it: generations of students, who’ll be dealing with the consequences for another 35 years — the projected life of the project.
Locking our kids and grandkids into decades more natural gas use would run counter to the university’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2024. A leader in technological research and the development of progressive environmental policy, Duke University needs to show the way toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future, not hunker down to needlessly extend our reliance on fossil fuels.
Nationally, we’re making real progress. We cut the carbon footprint 14 percent between 2005 and 2016, while the economy grew 17 percent.
How? We’re cutting electricity waste with efficiency gains. The wind and sun power half the new electric generating capacity installed last year. And Detroit is building some of the world’s best electric and hybrid cars.
That’s good work for more than 3 million Americans — 120,000 in North Carolina.
We’re counting on the next generation to build on this progress. And we’re counting on great universities like Duke to help lead the way.