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Purdue faculty and students call on university to commit to a zero emissions climate plan

Purdue professor Michael Johnston talks about the goals of the Purdue Climate Action Collective (Ben Thorp/WBAA).

More than 80 Purdue University faculty and students gathered on campus Tuesday night to call on the school’s administration to adopt a climate action plan.

Members of the Purdue Climate Action Collective – a self-described “brain trust” – want Purdue to join the majority of Big Ten schools with an official plan for reaching zero carbon emissions.

Doctoral student Utkuhan Genc showed a slide that featured a timeline with all of the climate commitments from Big Ten universities. He asked the crowd: “Where is Purdue?”

“The only action we have at Purdue is coming from the students currently,” he said. “There is no explanation, no press release, no date, nothing from the administration so far.”

The calls for Purdue to take action come as the region has passed a Greater Lafayette Climate Action Plan, and a resolution is moving through the Purdue Faculty Senate calling for the university to join that initiative.

Purdue professor Michael Johnston said the goal is to have the university commit to a zero emissions plan by the end of the year.

“Simply put, we want to ask the administration to commit to a climate action plan to put us in line with our peers in the Big Ten,” he said.

Within the Big Ten, schools have a variety of plans. The University of Maryland has the most aggressive goal: to reach carbon neutrality by 2025. The majority of schools, including Ohio State, the University of Minnesota, and Michigan State, all aim to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Purdue Climate Action Collective is not asking for a specific date for Purdue to hit a zero emissions target. Instead, they want the university to make a public commitment to a target so faculty and students can hold the administration accountable for it.

Professor Loring Nies said Purdue is its students and faculty — and the administration needs to listen when they ask for a discussion about climate change.

“To not even be willing to engage in that discussion, I think, is irresponsible,” he said.

But members of the collective were quick to underscore that they aren’t trying to pressure the school — and are instead hoping to work with the administration to create a strategy.

Professor Leigh Raymond said Purdue needs to be seen as a leader on climate issues.

“These issues matter to the most talented researchers, especially in these areas,” he said. “If they come to a university that doesn’t look like it takes these issues seriously, that’s a recruitment issue, actually.”

Raymond also said he thinks the previous administration, under Mitch Daniels, held the incorrect perception that reducing emissions on campus would be an expensive endeavor.

“In fact, many of the options for providing this energy to campus would actually be cheaper,” he said. “That is a message that is just not getting through.”

In a written statement, a Purdue spokesperson said the university is “always open to new conversations and ideas around climate initiatives”, pointing to the ongoing partnership with Duke Energy to explore nuclear energy options.

Michael Johnston said exploring things with Duke isn’t good enough.

“If it’s just well ‘we’re still continuing to talk’ it’s like – great, you were already doing that. Let’s get you to commit to a climate action plan and you can fold your talks into that,” he said. “We really want a commitment so Purdue can have a place on that list of universities with a plan.”

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Purdue as the only Big Ten university without an official plan for reaching zero carbon emissions. University of Iowa’s current strategic plan has a stated goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50%. Other schools are at various stages of plan development.