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Letter to the editor: College graded incomplete on carbon neutrality effort

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Posted on December 30, 2016 |
By Randy Kritkausky



I have long been encouraged by Middlebury College’s commitment to reducingcarbon emissions and setting “carbon neutrality” as a target. This is indeed setting a higher standard for academic institutions and indeed all consumers of energy.

The College’s recent announcement of achieving carbon neutrality needs tobe measured against its aspiration to set higher standards for addressing climate change. In particular, the claim that 2,100 acres of the Bread Loaf Campus is a carbon offset needs to be examined in light of the highest standards of greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting. Our nonprofit spent several years participating in the creation of a globally recognized GHG accounting standard (ISO 14064). This standard is used widely, including across the border in Quebec Province where their Sustainability Ministry carefully vets and verifies carbon reduction claims.

In the course of working with global experts on GHG accounting, one of thefirst and primary principles that we encountered was “additionality.” Quite simply, no carbon reduction can be claimed nor carbon credit created unless a project demonstrates that an action taken reverses course from some planned activity for carbon generating activity.

In the case of forests andthe widely publicized REDD mechanism, the carbon reduction claimant must document that they changed course from plans to cut down (or burn down) a forest. REDD actually stands for “Reduce Deforestation and Degradation.” It provides economic incentives for Brazilian rainforest owners to not engage in planned forest destruction.

But the principle of additionality does notaccommodate claims, such as that by Middlebury College that it is additionally sequestering carbon for forest land it previously put into an endowed trust with the goal of perpetual preservation. Sadly there are “verifying” agencies out there that have made a business model of certifying dubious carbon reduction and offset schemes.

The goal of preserving Bread Loaf’s magnificent forests is laudable, as isthe aspiration for carbon neutrality. Given the College’s deep commitment to carbon neutrality, I am certain that it will not cease its efforts to reduce a very large institution’s impact on the climate. I hope that it will now examine carbon emissions not included in previous calculations (student and program related transport).

This is the “other” big issue in GHG accounting. What activities do you include within the boundaries of your calculation? (For example, does Walmart rest when its retail stores are carbon neutral, or does it go on to consider the trucks it has on highways?) For Middlebury’s carbon reduction team, it may be time to celebrate a touchdown, but it is far from game over, and a referee may call back the most recent claim after reviewing the action.

Randy Kritkausky, President of ECOLOGIA, Whiting

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