Student activists at SGA rally demand UMD become fossil fuel free by 2035

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University of Maryland student climate activists gathered on the McKeldin Mall on Friday to push for more transparency and progress of this university in the decarbonization of its energy sources.

As students and faculty passed McKeldin Library throughout the afternoon, activists pointed the mall to three gray chimneys at the fossil fuel power plant where this university has been getting its natural gas power for years, making it the state government’s largest carbon emitter. The plant’s current natural gas system was installed in 1999.

“So many people today were so surprised that you could see the power plant and it’s on the main road right there because we don’t have a conversation about it,” student Betsy Barrett said. in animal science.

This university’s Student Government Association organized the Fossil Free UMD rally to bring transparency to the university’s NextGen Energy project. — an initiative launched in 2020 renew the university’s contract with the Route 1 Central and make it more environmentally friendly.

The plan sets overall goals for adding a distribution system to make this university’s heating and cooling energy systems more efficient. But throughout the process, many students expressed concern that not enough student voices were consulted.

“It is important that students are considered in every decision-making process. And right now that just isn’t happening with the Next-Gen project,” said SGA President, Pro Tempore, Steven Berit. “If the students are just there to check off a box that the students are there, it doesn’t make sense.”

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Berit, a sophomore majoring in computer science and majoring in government and politics, is the only undergraduate representative on that university’s NextGen program advisory group, who was formed to consult with university officials on the progress of the project. So far, Berit and other SGA leaders say the group has had no significant impact on university negotiations to renew the powerhouse.

The university’s current goal, announced by University President Darryll Pines on Earth Day 2021, is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. Carbon neutrality refers to the ability to offset the carbon emissions.

Students are pushing this university to go the extra mile and completely decarbonize, or reduce and eliminate all carbon emissions without offsetting.

Friday’s gathering was crucial as the university is at a turning point for its energy needs for the next few decades, said Nina Jeffries, director of sustainability at SGA. As the university seeks to make its energy use more sustainable, students need to be more aware of its impact on climate change in the state, she added.

“People think climate change and fossil fuel use are so far from home, but in reality, it’s here, our campus is operating on it,” said the environmental science and policy major. “We have an incredibly important moment that we need to capitalize on to make sure we don’t continue to fuel this campus with fossil fuels.”

Students participating in the rally shared their personal experiences with climate change and made posters with statements such as “bold ideas are fossil fuel free” and “we deserve a fossil fuel free future”.

“We need to organize events like this and really raise awareness because it’s kind of ridiculous that our university continues to invest in fossil fuels,” said Sophia D’Alonzo, a second-year communications and science student. and environmental policies who attended the gathering.

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Other students said the university’s focus on sustainability in its curriculum and admissions outreach is hypocritical if it doesn’t accelerate its decarbonization processes.

Under the NextGen Energy program, this university is accepting proposals that would set it on a timeline for full decarbonization by 2035 or 2050. Students at the rally pointed out that the university’s consideration of a timeline that decarbonizes its energy by 2050 does not match its sustainability goals.

“[The university is] will eventually switch to renewable energy. I just don’t see what the problem is, especially when it’s our generation that’s going to deal with this stuff,” Betsy Barrett said.

In a statement, this university said it is fully committed to becoming fossil fuel-free under the NextGen Energy program and is committed to “achieving decarbonization for the future of our entire university community.” , with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025.

“Students are mobilizing for something to which the institution is fully committed,” university spokeswoman Hafsa Siddiqi said in an email.

But for Nancy Barrett, a junior in environmental science and policy and the SGA’s deputy director of sustainability, the university’s current efforts to promote sustainability aren’t enough. That’s why students had to take matters into their own hands this week, she said.

“I commend this university for what it has done, but in the age of climate change, we are still not doing enough,” they said. “We know how important the climate crisis is. It’s looming right in front of us…we’re in crisis mode.

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