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We Cannot Wait for Congress to Fight Climate Change

We Cannot Wait for Congress to Fight Climate Change

Dr. Lyle Roelofs headshot

In light of a recent Supreme Court decision, it’s up to us, on an individual and organizational level, to combat global climate change.

In a 6-3 decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Supreme Court hamstrung the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions of the nation’s utility companies. The court ruled that the EPA lacked the authority to push utilities to produce cleaner power because Congress had not given the agency that authority explicitly.

That means it will take an act of Congress for the federal government to provide leadership in combating global climate change. But we cannot wait for Congress to act; time is running out, and we are already facing the impacts of climate change.

According to the Washington Post, more than 40 percent of Americans live in counties that were struck by climate-related extreme weather last year, and more than 80 percent experienced a heat wave. Climate change brings fires to California, severe storms to Nebraska, hurricanes to the Gulf of Mexico, and flooding to Kentucky. As emissions climb, the earth’s average temperature rises, and weather everywhere becomes more variable and extreme.   That leads to melting of glaciers, rising sea levels, wildfires, extreme heat, stronger storms and drought, which much of the country is currently experiencing. It has been established that human activities are the dominant cause of the current rapid climate change, and it is only we humans, therefore, who can take action to mitigate the effects. And unfortunately, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, we cannot rely on the federal government to structure our response and lead us as a country in meeting this huge challenge.  Even worse, in my opinion, is that climate change is really and truly a global problem, and it is great countries like the United States that need to be providing global leadership and supporting other countries with resources and technological advances.  The Supreme Court decision, from that point of view, has also hamstrung global efforts!

So, it is on us.  Berea College has tried to lead by example when it comes to reducing our carbon emissions. We have used our resources to innovate and invest in ways that will allow us to become

a carbon-neutral campus. This includes using our forest to absorb carbon from atmosphere, utilizing horse logging to increase the health of that forest and ensure that its carbon sequestration will continue to increase, and building two hydroelectric power plants on the Kentucky River, one at Lock and Dam 12 already complete and operating and the other under construction at Lock and Dam 14.  Together they  will completely offset our electricity usage, while providing many other benefits as well and even providing some revenue to the College for carrying out our mission of providing a tuition-free education to students who might otherwise be unable to attend college. We have also built and renovated our residence halls and other buildings following LEED or

Horses being used to move lumber

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines to use less energy and water.

These sustainability efforts reflect the seventh of our eight Great Commitments at Berea College. Other organizations need to prioritize reducing greenhouse gas emissions, too.  There are many, many ways to reduce our carbon footprint—a simple Google search can illuminate them better than I can here—and they will be different for different organizations.

Climate change is a global emergency, and we must do all we can to mitigate its effects. With the government being forced to pull back, individuals and organizations will need to step up even more. Doing what we can could even inspire Congress to act; let’s be the example our legislators need!