decarbonize NYU is a subcampaign of NYU Divest working to align NYU’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) with the imperatives of Climate and Environmental Justice, and to extend the Plan’s ambition beyond emissions reductions towards the just transition to 100% renewable energy.
a plan for just and ambitious climate action
we celebrate NYU’s achievements so far in building efficiency, its past purchases of wind power, and current initiatives, but recognize that that the climate crisis calls for more radical, ambitious, and comprehensive action.
Principles Fossil fuels are coal, oil and gas when they are combusted to produce mechanical or heat energy, also known as primary energy. Deep decarbonization is liberation from the fossil fuel economy, transition to the renewable economy, in all sectors from power to transportation to heating in order to avert catastrophic climate change. While we may continue to rely on hydrocarbons like oil to produce plastics for essential goods, oil extraction and plastic waste also threaten life on earth, so transitioning to renewable materials instead of plastic is also advisable. To counteract the historically disproportionate burden that environmental harms have borne upon marginalized people and nonhumans, our decisions must adhere to environmental justice, the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Environmental justice also requires that polluters are held accountable for the damage and risk to which communities are exposed. Environmental Justice Principles are viewable here. Decarbonization plans must optimize for more than cheapness and efficiency. A just transition to renewable energy means phasing out the fossil fuel economy in a way that actively works to build a just and healthy society. A just transition would ensure that fossil fuel workers are provided with good jobs after the closure of fossil fuel operations, and that renewable energy developments do not harm nearby communities. Though we need to stop extracting and combusting fossil fuels fast, we can’t safely do so overnight. The managed decline away from fossil fuels involves taking immediate steps to stop the ongoing expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure (mines, pipelines, refineries, power plants) and adhering to a long-term plan for the phaseout of our existing dependence on fossil fuels. A managed decline would minimize the harms from this phaseout by planning ahead instead of waiting for catastrophe.
Participatory democracy asks that all stakeholders in a process–not just experts, not just representatives, but everyday people– be actively involved in the design and implementation of policies. nyudivest.com
Our Plan 1 . The Office of Sustainability must organize an in-person town hall and publicize it to the entire NYU Community through the President’s office.
a plan for just and ambitious climate action
R.E.A.L. Criteria Developed by the New York Energy Democracy Alliance
A just, effective, and permanent climate mitigation plan is R.E.A.L. All new energy capacity should be Renewable: solar, wind, geothermal, ocean thermal, and hydroelectric. This excludes combustibles like biomass, natural gas, oil, coal–energy sources which damage land, set back food agriculture, and emit pollutants. The plan must be Equitable: the benefits in employment, cost savings, and environmental cobenefits must be distributed equitably to local communities, especially those on the frontlines of the climate crisis–people of color, low income communities, women, youth, and indigenous people. These people should not be penalized in any way by the transition to renewable energy. New renewable capacity must be Additional, which means that it must be capacity that would not have otherwise been built, and there should not be double-counting, which means claiming the same capacity by different initatives. The plan should be Accountable in that it responds to community concerns throughout planning and implementation. Finally, the plan must be Local, which means that it should not rely on paying for renewable energy credits or offsets generated in distant regions.
In the interest of accessibility, education, and participatory planning, NYU must do the work of actively informing every member of our community about the drafting of the Climate Action Plan and its current elements, and facilitating the participation of every interested community member. We envision advertising on the model (but not scale and intensity) of the Being@NYU survey. The town hall must be accessible to local stakeholders who are not NYU-affiliated.
2. The Office of Sustainability must plan local stakeholder consultations and invite local Environmental Justice community organizations to inform the drafting and evaluation of the Climate Action Plan. These organizations include but are not limited to the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC EJA), Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Citizens Committee NYC, Long Term Recovery Group of the Lower East Side of Manhattan (LES Ready), and Uprose.
3. NYU must allocate more funding, authority, and staffing to the Office of Sustainability in the service of a more powerful and comprehensive Climate Action Plan and other environmental programs. 4. The Climate Action Plan must be extended to cover NYU Langone campus, the Shanghai Campus, the Abu Dhabi Campus, and all Global Sites. Recently, President Hamilton celebrated the “outsized impact” that our university owes to its scale and status as a “global network university.” Our university’s
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Our Plan (continued) unusual size and international presence carries with it a responsibility for the environmental impact of every Global Site, and the opportunity to show planetary climate leadership. Yet so far, the Climate Action Plan has only applied to the Washington Square Campus. What of the emissions,
energy usage, and social responsibility of the other campuses that NYU boasts? Our university must extend the commitments made within its Climate Action Plan to all global sites, our Langone Campus, and the Brooklyn-based Tandon School of Engineering.
5. Carbon neutrality is not enough. The Climate Action Plan must commit NYU to achieving 100% renewable power, heating, cooling, and transportation by 2040. Carbon neutrality is important, and NYU has committed to reaching it by 2040. But itâ€™s not enough. Carbon neutrality means reducing an entityâ€™s net greenhouse gas emissions to 0. But it still allows for the coninued burning of fossil fuels and other combustibles, and the use of carbon offets and credits. It does not address the environmental injustices and toxic pollution of fossil fuel extraction, processing, and transport. Carbon offsetts such as afforestation are near impossible to certify as additional and permanent, and have impinged on indigenous sovereignty and biodiversity, outsourcing the work of clate mitigation to the Global South. This is why NYU (rightly) did not count them in its previous CAP. Finally, carbon neutrality is reversible. If NYU encounters budget constraints after going carbon neutral, it could instantly annull initiatives to offset or sequester its emissions from combustibles. Committing to 100% renewables and the R.E.A.L. Criteria is the only way to ensure that our advances in decarbonization are transfromative, lasting, and reliable, and that our school becomes a vanguard in adopting the best climate mitigation strategy. As of this writing, 58 US cities and towns have committed to 100% renewables, and 5 cities and towns are already powered with 100% renewables through power purchases. In the United States, Boston University will reach 100% renewable energy through power purchases this year, and Maui College has committed to reaching 100% onsite renewable energy. We have been in contact with Jay Egg and NY-GEO about NYU adopting Geothermal, as St. Patrickâ€™s Cathedral has done, and believe that the office of Sustainability should continue to pioneer this work. Jay Egg is currently helping Cornell University nyudivest.com
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Our Plan (continued) implement a geothermal plan. There are many ways to go 100% renewable, and we encourage the NYU Community and Sustainability Office to devise creative paths to this goal. There is no time to lose. Tools for becoming a 100% renewable college campus are available here.
5a. NYU must commit to only purchasing electric vehicles in the future in order to one day acheive a 100% electric fleet. 5b. NYU must reasess and publicize the climate and toxic pollution impacts of the Cogeneration Plant. It must create a plan to phase out the Cogeneration Plant in the future and install Geothermal or other renewable systems to meet its heating and cooling needs, as well as some some of its energy needs. In 2007, in pursuit of carbon dioxide emissions reductions, and responding to the fracked gas boom, NYU made a $125 million investment in the gas-powered Cogeneration plant. The Cogeneration Plant has produced several benefits, including providing energy to NYU and its neighbors in October of 2012, when Superstorm Sandy’s surge caused a blackout throughout the Lower Manhattan grid. But when NYU decided to invest in in the Cogeneration Plant, research on the polluting impacts of fracking was in its early stages, and these impacts were not popularly understood. Today, new research on fracking places in serious doubt whether NYUs reliance on fracked gas is a net benefit. Recent research strongly suggests that the carbon dioxide savings of natural gas are partially or even wholly eliminated by the warming potential of its methane emissions. One study suggests that in the near term, natural gas has an equal warming impact to that of coal. A recent meta-analysis has identified fracking as a “public health crisis,” in large part due to the toxic substances that fracking releases into air, water, and soil. We are confident that the gas supplying the Cogeneration plant is supplied by the Utica or Marcellus Shale, passes through the NJ-NY Expansion Project Pipeline. Globally, deliberate increases in natural gas investment not only reward fracking and its attendant harms to human health and ecosystems; they also divert essential resources away from
Our Plan (continued) potential growth in renewables. These large investments in gas-fired plants and gas pipelines become stranded assets when they must be replaced with renewable energy capacity before their intended lifespan ends. Although we congratulate NYU on the carbon emissions a plan for just and ambitious reductions the Cogeneration Plant has created, and we recognize the Cogen plant’s importance to NYU’s climate action resliency through Hurricane Sandy, we encourage it to reassess and publicize whether the switch to natural gas truly reduced NYU’s climate impacts. Natural gas is not, and never was, a viable long-term climate solution, and as an educational institution NYU must act according to the best and most up-to-date science.
6. The Office of Sustainability must count, publicly and accessibly report, and work to reduce all major GHG emissions, not just car bon, as well as local pollutants. Updates to NYU’s Cogeneration plant have significantly reduced the amount of local pollutants released in Washington Square. But NYU must consider the life-cycle impacts of its energy sources, not just end-of-pipe pollutants. It must take into consideration the cumulative impacts of relevant pollutants. Any information collected should be made easily accessible to the NYU Community.
7. NYU must account for, publicize, and work to reduce its GHG emissions from air travel. It must work creatively to advance its educational mission while reducing air travel for NYU Community members. 8. NYU’s Board must cease investing our endowment in the Fossil Fuel Industry. As of the fall of 2016, every new oil or gas project is expected to bring us beyond the 1.5 degrees Celcius in average global temperature increase. Every new coal project is expected to lock us into 2 degrees of warming or more. Fossil fuel divestment is a means to accelerate the phaseout of the fossil fuel economy by revoking the industry’s social license to operate, with the aim of leaving remaining fossil fuel reserves unexploited. Despite broad support for divestment from the NYU community, including a University Senate resolution passed with over 80% support in 2015, the Board of Trustees rejected divestment in June of 2016 in a university-wide memorandum written by Board of Trustees Chair William R. Berkley and our President, Andrew Hamilton. The time is now for NYU to stop funding the fossil fuel industry and its attacks on science education and on our political system.
Updated September 2018