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Some groups at WMU say 2050 is too late for carbon neutrality

View of a pond in early spring with the water reflecting blue sky and clouds, golden-dry grasses around the edge and bare trees in the background. A modern institutional building with tall windows is visible in the left background
Sehvilla Mann
WMU's Goldsworth Valley Pond, March 17, 2022

The call for an earlier deadline comes amid the talks and planning sessions of Climate Emergency Monthin Kalamazoo.

Western Michigan University plans to go carbon-neutral by 2050. But some campus groups say that’s too late, given the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The students, faculty and staff in Western’s Climate Change Working Group are pushing the more ambitious goal of 2030. The Western Student Association and Students for a Sustainable Earth also want to see an earlier carbon-neutrality deadline.

Western has not made a detailed plan for meeting the 2050 goal. Rather, in the sustainability section of its 2022-2032 Strategic Plan it said the school wants to “achieve carbon neutrality in alignment with the timeline set forth” by the state government. That “Healthy Climate Plan” timeline presently calls for carbon neutrality by 2050.

That’s earlier than the 2065 goal Western embraced about a decade ago, but still too far off as the threat of catastrophic warming looms, advocates of an earlier deadline say.

Brendan Mortensen-Seguin is a second-year student and the WSA’s Director of Sustainability.

“Our current climate plan is all suggestions and very lax on its policy,” he said. “I definitely think that the university should be pushing harder, and so any groups at the university that are pushing harder are much appreciated.”

Fourth-year Bronco Hannah Philo is president of Students for a Sustainable Earth. She said the university needs to act with more urgency.

“2050 is only like 30 years away. You know, my parents might not be around, but that’s pretty much, like, my mid-life. That is my adulthood, that’s when I’m potentially having my own children, making ways in my career, and I don’t think it’s fair for me to get robbed of that because of the choices we failed to make now,” she said.

Philo said an earlier date might help enrollment because it would appeal to students in many fields. She said in her experience, students from a variety of majors care about sustainability.

“So if they choose to come to a school that’s working to make that change, they’re going to feel better about that choice,” she said.

Asked for comment, WMU President Edward Montgomery told WMUK in an email that Western will develop a new climate action plan by next year. He did not comment on whether the school will change its carbon-neutrality deadline.