The Office of Climate and Sustainability hosted a virtual town hall Tuesday evening to discuss Duke’s progress on the Climate Commitment and respond to students’ questions and concerns.
The forum was led by speakers from across Duke’s environmental network, including Toddi Steelman, vice president and vice provost of climate and sustainability, Tavey Capps, executive director of climate and sustainability, Brian Murray, interim director of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, and Katie Douglas, climate program manager at the Nicholas School of the Environment.
They were joined by senior Emily Nagamoto, president of the Undergraduate Environmental Union, and juniors Coral Lin and Nikki Read, also from the UEU, as student moderators.
The event comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the Climate Commitment’s announcement last September and is the second student town hall dedicated to discussing the Climate Commitment after the first took place last February.
Part of the town hall was turned over to students for questions, most of which focused on the issue of fossil fuel divestment.
Steelman clarified that Duke’s investment strategies are not taken into account when determining carbon neutrality, according to the guidelines set after President Brodhead signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007. She pointed to the Office of Climate and Sustainability’s seminar series, “Investing for Mission-Based Institutions,” as a forum for students to engage in deeper discussion about divestment.
“This seminar series was a way for us to really dig in, in a way of bringing faculty expertise to bear and student expertise to bear,” she said.
Steelman noted that the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility remains the primary body to which students can bring official investment questions and grievances.
When asked directly about the University’s divestment goals, Steelman stated that “no timeline has been set by Duke University.”
Speakers advised that students interested in getting involved with the Duke Climate Commitment take courses related to climate and sustainability, join environment-related student groups and programs and visit facilities such as the Duke Forest and Duke Campus Farm.
Steelman emphasized that the Office of Climate and Sustainability is looking to engage with student opinions to hear ideas for new ventures.
“Where we have opportunity and where students are elevating their voices about where their interests lie, we’re going to try to find ways to channel them constructively to the change that we want to see,” she said.
Updates to Duke’s climate goals
The first half of the event consisted of a presentation by Steelman, Capps, Murray and Douglas on the Climate Commitment’s mission, current initiatives and plans for the future.
“What we really want to do is take the entire mission of Duke University and force it through a prism of climate and sustainability,” Steelman said. “We want to create climate fluency by educating and deploying a generation of climate- and sustainability-fluent changemakers.”
Capps referred to Duke’s Climate Action Plan from 2009 to describe efforts to make campus operations more sustainable. The plan outlined action steps to achieve the University’s 2024 carbon neutrality goal, set after Brodhead signed the 2007 Commitment.
The University is currently on track to meet its carbon neutrality goal by next year, with emission reductions measured at 43% as of fiscal year 2022. The administration expects to increase this number by another 2% and will achieve the remaining 55% through the purchase of carbon offsets.
Capps expressed that the University’s long-term goal is to continue to reduce direct emissions and lessen the proportion of carbon neutrality made up by these offsets. She also noted that while the main University campus, the Schools of Medicine and Nursing and the Duke Marine Lab are included in these metrics, the Duke Health System, Duke Kunshan University and Duke’s leased assets are not.
Murray gave updates on Duke’s involvement with the New York Climate Exchange, a “living laboratory for climate solutions” located on Governors Island in New York City. The project is led by Stony Brook University in partnership with other universities, NGOs and private sector organizations, and is slated for completion in 2030.
“We hope to have a conveyor belt … of students coming from Duke up to Governors Island to participate in the New York Climate Exchange through educational opportunities [and] research engagement opportunities as well,” Murray said.
The Duke Office of Durham and Community Affairs will serve as the main vehicle through which Climate Commitment leaders organize local community partnerships, according to Murray. Their 2021 Duke Strategic Community Impact Plan focuses on elements of housing, health, education, employment and community.
“We are building infrastructure so that we can more effectively work with local communities,” Murray said. “The scope of this office is broader than climate … but the areas that it is focused on — health, education, welfare — all have strong interactions with climate.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity sophomore and a staff reporter for the news department.