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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

UC Davis Campus organizations take steps to move toward a sustainable and climate-friendly future

Students and university staff share how various projects on campus are helping the campus achieve its climate and sustainability goals

By SIMRAN KALKAT — features@theaggie.org


The dangers of climate change have been known for many years, but the consequences of climate inaction are becoming more and more apparent. At UC Davis, campus members and student organizations share their vision for policies and actions to push for a more sustainable and climate-friendly planet. 

There are multiple departments and on-campus organizations at UC Davis that students and faculty who wish to learn more about sustainability and take action on climate change can get involved with. Among them is the ASUCD Campus Center for the Environment (CCE), a student-run and funded advocacy group that hosts a variety of climate-related projects for UC Davis students. Currently, the club is working on three core projects: Project Challenge, Project Compost and Project Garden. Desiree Chalmers, a UC Davis alumna and a former environmental writing and education volunteer at the CCE, explained Project Challenge, one of the projects that she was involved with. 

“Project Challenge aims to engage the Davis community in relation to environmentalism and sustainability,” Chalmers said via email. “With all the pandemic restrictions last year, we had to be creative about this and it mostly looked like social media challenges with prizes.”

The CCE is open for any student to join in whatever capacity they can. Students who would like to take on more leadership responsibilities for the center can apply to join the CCE. For those who are looking for more indirect ways to support the CCE’s mission, the Center’s Instagram page provides challenge information and tips that students can incorporate into their daily routines to be more sustainable. 

UC Davis CALPIRG is another group on campus that is committed to pushing for change and action on climate policies not just on campus, but across the nation. According to Aidan Morris, a fourth-year managerial economics major and the chapter chair of UC Davis CALPIRG, the organization is a part of the wider U.S. PIRG, which was started by students in Massachusetts who did not want to wait until they graduated from college to begin taking climate action.

Morris explained the purpose and mission of CALPIRG.

“They organized together and got students to pledge from across the state as members,” Morris said.”That gave us the funding we needed to get trained organizers at every campus and a statewide director, so we can effectively organize and advocate and lobby with politicians frequently to make real change.” 

One way that CALPIRG raises environmental awareness is through “photo petition” campaigns, during which students in CALPIRG take pictures with props or in specific locations on campus to spread awareness about the harmful impacts of certain practices, like oil drilling. They are also committed to putting pressure on the UC campuses to move away from fossil fuels. A lot of their advocacy work focuses on promoting climate-friendly practices on campus and in the larger Davis area, such as increasing use of public transportation and biking and petitioning for higher parking fees to discourage driving. 

Alongside these student-led organizations, the university itself is taking steps to improve their climate-consciousness. As part of their effort to meet their goal to make UC Davis carbon neutral by 2025, the campus has introduced the Big Shift initiative, which seeks to replace old steam pipes which run throughout the campus with a greener and safer alternative that will no longer rely on fossil fuels. John Morejohn, the UC Davis facilities management department energy manager, explained how the project hopes to shift the campus’ energy sources.

“It is a large-scale construction project that literally lays the groundwork for reducing UC Davis’ reliance on fossil fuels, while immediately decreasing our energy and water use,” Morejohn said via email.

The UC system, as a whole, has committed to carbon neutrality by 2025, and for UC Davis, the Big Shift is a key step to reach that goal. Camille Kirk, the director of sustainability and campus sustainability planner at UC Davis, said that UC Davis’ steam pipe system was 75 years old when the campus decided to change its heating and cooling system. In spring 2020, the Big Shift initiative was introduced, aiming to create a “greener” pipe system for the university.

“Knowing that UC Davis’ steam system was at the end of its maintainable life cycle, the Big Shift project planning team carefully analyzed several scenarios for this major project, with an eye on the full spectrum of expenses, for any version of a renewed heating system,” Kirk said via email. 

Kirk explained that after an independent study and careful review of the best fiscal and climate options for a new steam system on campus, the university decided to take the step to replace the steam pipes with a new system that would reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Kirk said that this “big shift” alone won’t make UC Davis carbon neutral, but it is a big step in that direction.

“Although net-zero carbon emission is the goal, achieving it with a campus as large as UC Davis will take time,” Kirk said via email. “This project aims to switch the majority of large buildings on campus from steam to hot water heating. By doing so, UC Davis could reduce its overall campus carbon emissions by 40 percent.”

Written by: Simran Kalkat — features@theaggie.org


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