Barry McNamara  |  Published May 05, 2021

Moving Toward Carbon Neutral

Professor, three students sketch out proposal to help College reduce its carbon footprint.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Three Monmouth College environmental studies and sustainability majors and their professor have outlined a plan for how the campus could become carbon neutral in the next decade.

KEN CRAMER: This is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming. This is stuff that can be done. KEN CRAMER: “This is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming. This is stuff that can be done.”Danielle Ito-LaBelle ’21 of Chicago, Nyasaina Kwamboka ’23 of Nairobi, Kenya, and Grace Simpson ’22 of Metamora, Illinois, joined biology professor Ken Cramer in presenting a proposal last month to the campus community.

“We have to use things in a way that we don’t rob future generations – that we don’t destroy the system upon which we all depend,” said Cramer, who noted that a major reason to move toward carbon neutrality is to mitigate the effects of climate change. “Climate change is really a problem of waste and degradation. We’re dumping too much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One of those is carbon dioxide.”

Cramer and the students want Monmouth to join nearly a dozen U.S. colleges and universities that have achieved carbon neutrality, including residential liberal arts colleges similar to Monmouth.

“This is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming,” said Cramer. “This is stuff that can be done.”

Dissecting renewable energy

For their campus presentation, each student discussed an element of renewable energy.

“Solar energy is the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available, and the United States has some of the richest solar resources in the whole world,” said Kwamboka. “That helps the environment by reducing the dependence on non-renewable energy, such as fossil fuels, and thus reduces air pollution and water pollution.”

She said that part of the group’s proposal is for the College to install LED lights in parking lots, along sidewalks and for emergency lighting.

“We would also like to maximize our solar output by installing solar on our buildings that have large roofs – the Center for Science and Business, the Huff Athletic Center and Hewes Library,” she said.

Monmouth business and science students are helping test cutting-edge panels for a leading solar company with panels that have been installed on top of the Center for Science and Business.

Simpson focused on wind energy.

“Renewable energy has been around for a long time. … It’s just a matter of expanding our use of it so that we can protect the environment a little better and still do the things we like to do.” Ken Cramer

“Wind is an inexhaustible resource that will provide the College a large return on investment,” she said. “By utilizing this resource, Monmouth College will be following in the footsteps of other successful small liberal arts colleges.” She said that one Midwest residential liberal arts college projects to save $1 million over the 20-year lifespan of a wind turbine it installed on campus.

The rise of biofuels, wind and solar

“Solar and wind energy are both growing incredibly rapidly, and coal is declining,” said Cramer. “Renewable energy has been around for a long time. It’s tested, proven technologies. It’s just a matter of expanding our use of it so that we can protect the environment a little better and still do the things we like to do.”

The group showed that by a large margin coal has been king as a source of energy over the last 70 years in the United States. But coal’s use peaked around 2005 and has been in sharp decline since 2010. Meanwhile, the use of biofuels and wind has risen significantly since 2000, and solar has made strong gains in the past five years.

Solar’s photovoltaic capacity in megawatts is predicted to be 10 times higher in 2023 than it was just five years ago. Although wind usage peaked a decade ago, its plateau is still at a high level, with much of that usage coming from the interior regions of the country.

“We will pass on our report to subsequent generations. If and when we have a sustainability coordinator, that should be the first thing they would read just to save them some initial work.” Ken Cramer

Part of the proposal was for the College to hire a full-time sustainability officer by the summer of 2022.

“We will pass on our report to subsequent generations,” said Cramer. “If and when we have a sustainability coordinator, that should be the first thing they would read just to save them some initial work. You have to have someone who is dedicated to doing this full-time. We investigated the cost of sustainability coordinators, and that will be in our final report, which will come out in a couple weeks.”

The proposal’s first steps call for a greenhouse gas audit and to form a sustainability advisory committee. By next year, the group hopes to see individual energy metering of each building, which the students said would help drive dorm competitions to decrease usage.

By the latter half of the decade, the group hopes the College will either be in an agreement with wind power providers or install a dedicated turbine on campus. Cramer and the students also hope Monmouth will make investments in geothermal energy.

In his closing remarks, Cramer referenced a quotation by Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, comparing hope and optimism:

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

“That’s the way I feel about investing in reducing our carbon emissions,” said Cramer. “One of the other quotes I read is ‘Hope is action,’ so I’m hoping that this will cause the College to take some action.”

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