Northern Arizona University is embarking on its fourth attempt in a decade to create and fully implement a climate action plan. Right now, the university is operating without a climate action plan—and as the institution is a large polluter in the city of Flagstaff, this is incredibly worrying.
While previous climate action and sustainability efforts have spurred significant achievements in energy and resource conservation, faculty, students, and administrators have stated that those past plans lacked clear and achievable steps to reach carbon neutrality as well as the necessary support and resources to do so. At this point, it is clear that the university won’t meet its initial 2010 goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2020, nor their subsequent goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040.
“We are months away from 2020, and we aren’t going to hit that goal, so we need to reevaluate our process and our road map to carbon neutrality,” said Matthew Muchna, NAU’s sustainability manager. “We need a new plan, and also we’d love to work with the city with their climate action and adaptation plan to collaborate and help accomplish their goals as they help us work through our plan.”
In an interview with the Arizona Daily Sun, NAU president Rita Cheng focused on pragmatism and how NAU is “going to balance being audacious and being a leader with what we can actually get done.” However, these values do not seem to align with the students she represents.
Many NAU students are discontented with the lack of action from the university on the issue of the climate crisis. For a decade now, students of all kinds have attempted to bring attention to the universities polluting practices. They’ve tried a multitude of tactics: civil discourse, sit-ins, protests, but with little results in terms of substantive action by the university. In fact, activists concerned with their chance of a livable future due to the climate crisis are punished by the university.
In 2016, five NAU students—a part of the group Fossil Free NAU—were arrested in their mission to pressure President Rita Cheng into taking a stance on fossil fuel divestment. The group sought to secure a commitment from the university and the nonprofit NAU Foundation to abandon investments in the top 200 coal, oil and gas corporations. With no response from the administration and the NAU foundation, this group had a 4 day sit-in at NAU in order to draw attention to the issue of divestment. Still, no action or discourse has taken place by the university or the foundation on divesting from fossil fuels, almost 4 years later.
This brings up some inconsistencies with the university’s narrative. NAU tends to pride itself on being a leader of sustainability, with incoming freshmen being urged to shorten their showers, bike rather than drive, and use their newest reusable food containers rather than plastic when eating on campus. If NAU is so sustainable, where was the accountability and prioritization from the university administration on achieving carbon neutrality by 2020?
It is clear that now, if NAU students want a livable future, it is up to us to fight for it. During this climate action plan creation process, students are extremely encouraged to add their voice to the conversation.
“We need students to get involved. One, because we want to know what’s important regarding climate action for the student population” Muchna stated. “We also really need their actions and support—getting involved with action teams and green groups looking to further some of these initiatives.”
We need a high student turnout to the upcoming Climate Action Plan Forum. It will be on Tuesday, September 17 from 2-4pm in the DuBois ballroom on NAU’s campus.