What is Climate Neutrality?

I walk around campus, and I see a flurry of flyers and posters on sustainability and environmental issues. I pass by students and faculty, and I hear overhear comments on climate change and being “green.” It seems that trying to be environmentally-aware has almost become a new norm at UCSD. And who wouldn’t want in? It’s admirable to care about sustainable practices, energy efficiency, water conservation and the like. But even though a lot students have a general idea of what it means to be environmentally-friendly, the real importance of the University of California trying to achieve “climate neutrality” is an abstract and idea for many.

So what exactly is climate neutrality? Climate neutrality, or carbon neutrality, is the state of producing net zero carbon emissions, achieved by minimizing carbon emissions and using carbon offsets or other measures to reduce effects of the remaining emissions. In other words, it is producing as few greenhouse gas emissions as possible, and then producing fewer emissions elsewhere to make up for the remaining emissions.

As such a large university, UCSD is bound to emit carbon, but we can work towards producing net zero carbon emissions. Every time we use electricity we require a source for the energy produced. A business-as-usual model would show that we acquire our energy through combustion of natural gas, which is not carbon neutral. If we substitute natural gas with biomethane, however, we would be closer to our goal of carbon neutrality. Biomethane is a renewable source of energy that comes from recent organic matter, and the burning of biomethane releases carbon dioxide that would be freed anyway from decomposition of the organic matter.

Climate neutrality is difficult to achieve because of the continued development of the university, the growth of energy needs of our campus, and the amount of effort and funds needed to keep up with the newest green technology. Residential housing and research facilities on campus use up a large amount of energy, and the laboratory equipment and appliances we have around campus are not always the most carbon efficient (e.g. ENERGY STAR products). For example, there are still large printers on campus that have not been switched out for resource and energy efficient printers, and many laboratory freezers need to be upgraded as well. But with the right investments in renewable energy, climate neutrality can be a feasible and cost effective future for our university.

UCSD’s co-generation power plant

UCSD’s co-generation power plant

By: Linda Tong, UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellow

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