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Student Climate Initiative proposes referendum to reduce U. emissions

Claire Wayner '22 (seated on right) and Maria Fleury '22 (seated on left)
Claire Wayner '22 (seated on right) and Maria Fleury '22 (seated on left)

The Princeton Student Climate Initiative (PSCI) has placed a referendum calling for the University to reduce carbon emissions on the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) spring ballot this week. The University has already set a 2046 goal for carbon neutrality, but the PSCI sees the current goal as unclear and incomprehensive.

The referendum’s three key requests of the administration are the establishment of a “task force to develop a strategy for tracking campus Scope III emissions, a clearer timeline for meeting the 2046 carbon neutrality goal by establishing public benchmark dates for the strategies outlined in the 2019 Sustainability Action plan, and active inclusion of students in the decision-making process towards a carbon neutral campus.”


The University claims that it is currently “on track to meet its current greenhouse gas emissions goal of 1990 levels by 2020 without the purchase of market offsets” and that “[e]fforts are currently underway to set the stage for net neutral CO2 equivalent campus emission by 2046.”

Claire Wayner ’22, PSCI Carbon Neutral Campus Team Lead, said that undergraduates were not very involved in the decision-making process of the 2046 carbon neutrality goal.

“This referendum stems out of a desire to let the University know how important climate change and climate action is to undergrads, and how we really want to be included in the decision-making process moving forward,” she said.

Wayner said that the University’s current carbon-neutral goal only incorporates emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy.

“It doesn’t include the emissions that are connected to, say, all the food that we buy, or all the flights that students take to go study abroad,” she said.

The referendum would ask the University to start tracking emissions from all such indirect activities, or Scope III emissions, to evaluate how they can be reduced. These are classified by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as “indirect emissions” not included in Scope II, which includes “indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy.”


Wayner said that the administration’s current 2046 goal is vague and lacks specific subgoals detailing when and how the University will become carbon neutral.

“Within 2046, for instance, when are we going to get to 100 percent renewable energy, or when are all the Tiger Transit shuttles going to be electric buses instead of diesel?” she said.

PSCI decided to initiate the referendum process after meeting with the Office of Sustainability, when they learned that the administration needed to see that a “large portion of the student body cares about climate change.”

To place the referendum on the ballot, PSCI members collected 543 undergraduate student signatures. USG rules stipulate that student groups must collect signatures on their proposed referendums from 10 percent of the student body.

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“I think to Princeton students, oftentimes voting doesn’t seem to have much of an impact … but taking just a couple minutes next week during voting period to fill out a ballot … actually goes a long way toward changing administrative opinion about student beliefs and student priorities,” Wayner said.

In response to Wayner’s concerns, Office of Sustainability Director Shana Weber explained that many questions would be answered upon the release of the 2019 Sustainability Action plan on Monday, April 22 — also Earth Day.

“The plan outlines detailed strategies to take the first substantive steps away from fossil fuel combustion on campus, including interim targets for 2026, while we continue to expand renewable energy sources,” Weber wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “While the full transition will take about 20 years, we will take many of the first key steps much sooner. The coming release of this plan is just the beginning, and we will need the engagement of the entire University community to make it a success.”

Furthermore, Weber also defended the Office of Sustainability’s level of contact with students, asserting that their engagement “has included monthly updates during the academic year and feedback sessions with the Princeton Sustainability Committee, focused discussions and workshops in the course ENV 327: Investigating an Ethos of Sustainability at Princeton, perception surveys, and direct outreach and engagement with multiple student groups.”

Despite the criticisms presented in the referendum, Weber remains optimistic about the potential of the plan for the University’s future.

“The success of this plan will depend on every member of the campus community recognizing and embracing their role in creating a truly sustainable Princeton,” Weber wrote. “These bold objectives will stretch our ambitions and imaginations, but they are attainable if we pursue a full-campus press toward a sustainable future for the institution and the planet.”

Maria Fleury ’22, PSCI Carbon Neutral Campus Team member, said that it’s important for students to remind the University that they care.

“We have the intellectual and financial resources to achieve so many great things,” she said. She added that being carbon-net-neutral and an institution that is advanced in its climate initiatives is an important statement and sets the parameters for institutions all over the country and the world.

“The things we do here … have a long term impact greater than we normally think,” Fleury said.

Jivahn Moradian ’20 encouraged the University to take on the issue of carbon emissions “beyond its face appearance.” 

“This is why the Scope 3 emissions tracking is so important: reducing our carbon footprint to zero is pointless if doing so requires indirectly increasing emissions elsewhere,“ Moradian wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “Referendum #1 is a great first step towards steering the University towards a responsible, long-term sustainability plan, and will send a strong message to the administration that the student body cares about climate issues.”

Johanne Kjaersgaard ’22 said a carbon-neutral campus was not unfeasible and was something that students could accomplish.

“I think that, as students, we are often told that the problems of the world are too large for us,” she said. “Because we are students in an academic institution that supposedly cares about the world, that comes with the responsibility to try to act as much as you can.”

Online voting through Helios will take place from noon on April 15 to noon on April 17.