OPINION: UP should do more to combat climate change

By Adam Jeffries | April 1, 2021 3:26pm
Adam Jeffries is a freshman business student. Photo courtesy of Adam Jeffries.

There are some things about the future that are unknown. Will flying cars be a real thing, can humans set up a colony on Mars, or will there ever be world peace? These are all possible things that may happen one day but are, for now, speculation. However, there is one thing that science is sure about: Earth’s climate is changing and the damage will be irreversible by 2030. This is why we all need to act now and it needs to start at the top. University of Portland is not only an influencer toward student behavior, but also the community that it is a part of. UP needs to set an example about being climate conscious and take much needed steps towards reducing its carbon footprint.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, indoor dining has been extremely limited. University of Portland made the smart decision to not allow students to eat in the commons, and instead provide to-go meals. This decision has helped to keep Covid cases at UP low, but there has been an unintended consequence: more packaging waste. During COVID-19, plastic packaging usage in America has increased by 40%. University of Portland’s to-go meals usually consist of fruit cups, salads and bowls that are all single-use plastic. Also, all of the utensils provided are made of single-use plastic. Most of the meals are provided in folding cardboard containers, but they are lined in a plastic coating which makes them non-recyclable. The University has instructed students not to recycle them, as stated by the Instagram page UPFoodReviews, in my interview with the account operator. None of the packaging that the food is served in is made with biodegradable or recyclable materials besides coffee cups, according to UPFoodReviews. 

In addition to being harmful to the environment during production, single-use plastics are dangerous to aquatic life. Each year, millions of marine animals and seabirds die because of these plastics, and the seafood we eat is being contaminated with micro plastics that sea animals swallow. As a school that prides itself on being eco-conscious, I view this as a huge misstep and something that needs to be corrected. Just because we are in a pandemic should not give the university an excuse to pollute more. University of Portland needs to stop using these single-use plastics for packaging and utensils and switch to more eco-friendly materials like recycled cardboard and plastic, and biodegradable containers.

University of Portland has taken the important step toward being more environmentally friendly, as all new buildings on campus will be designed to LEED silver, gold or platinum certification. This means that all new buildings will be held to a higher standard when it comes to energy savings, water efficiency, CO₂ emissions reduction, and improved indoor environmental quality standards. Constructing LEED certified buildings is a huge deal that should not be ignored. Only a handful of colleges meet these requirements, and it is great that University of Portland has made this commitment to having new buildings meet greater environmental requirements. I do believe though, that the university could be doing more. In a study done by Stanford University, it was determined that if colleges used solar panels, it would reduce their carbon footprint by 28% and allow schools to meet up to 75% of their electricity needs. Currently, schools and universities account for 11% of all energy consumption, and 4% of all carbon pollution in the United States. As of 2018, almost 25% of Oregon’s electricity was powered by coal. When coal is burned, it releases mercury, lead, and sulfur dioxide among other chemicals which lead to cancer, heart and lung disease and neurological damage. Implementing the use of solar panels for buildings would make a big difference in air quality, save University of Portland money, and spur on change at other colleges.

Switching to solar is not just a move that is supported by science, but also by students all across America. “Roughly one in four students have participated in a walkout, attended a rally or written to a public official expressing their views” on climate change according to the Washington Post. Also, 86% of students believe that human activity is causing the climate to change. This statistic shows that a large percentage of students deem that drastic action is necessary to combat global warming. By installing solar panels, University of Portland can keep the air clean, as well as protect its students against the adverse effects of producing electricity using fossil fuels.

All across the world, electric car sales are increasing. This is due to the public learning about the impact their vehicle has on the environment. Gas powered vehicles are the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for 28% of all emissions. The University of Portland has installed electric chargers in the main parking lot by the Clark Library. This is a great first step, but more needs to be added. There are only two spaces reserved for electric vehicles. If the university wants to promote the use of electric cars, they need to provide the ability for students to drive them and charge on campus. Two charging spots are not enough. 

Currently, the three states that sell the most electric vehicles are California, Washington and Oregon. 77.4% of University of Portland students come from these three states. This gives the average University of Portland student a high percentage chance of driving an electric car. Also, within the next nine years, electric cars are projected to outsell internal combustion vehicles. When this happens, University of Portland will be greatly under-prepared and lack the needed infrastructure to provide electric charging for students to charge their cars. If UP wants to be prepared for the future of automobiles, they need to start installing more charging stations around campus.

University of Portland’s mission states that they pursue service and leadership in the classroom, residence halls and the world. In order to fulfill that promise, the university needs to take some drastic steps to reduce their pollution, promote climate awareness, and become the environmental steward they claim to be. In order to keep Oregon green and be an example for how an environmentally responsible college should act, University of Portland needs to reduce its carbon footprint.

Adam Jeffries is a freshman business student. He can be reached at jeffries24@up.edu.

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