Rawlings credits students for driving climate action

Rawlings speaks at PSCC
Jason Koski/University Photography
Interim President Hunter Rawlings addresses the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee annual summit Nov. 10.

Interim President Hunter Rawlings gave students credit for propelling the university into action at the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee annual summit Nov. 10.

“During my years as president – the first time – the students of Kyoto Now, now known as Climate Justice Cornell, pushed us – so you see this started with students really – pushed us to try harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Rawlings in his keynote address.

Rawlings said Cornell students “show a tremendous awareness of sustainability issues … and they show a steadily increasing passion toward sustainability as part of their studies and, more importantly, as part of their lives.”

Over the intervening two decades since he was first named Cornell president in 1995, Rawlings said there has been a noticeable shift toward helping the environment. “We have begun creating a culture of sustainability that is pervasive across the community and is part of Cornell’s global reputation,” he said.

Rawlings recalled the launch in 2000 of Lake Source Cooling, a project that cooled campus buildings using cold water from Cayuga Lake. “The first few months of that [project] were not very pleasant,” he said. “We had protests, we had angry people … who were complaining bitterly.”

The “secret weapon” in the ultimate approval of Lake Source Cooling, Rawlings revealed, was Lanny Joyce, director of utilities and energy management. “At hearing after hearing after hearing … with a lot of shouting and a lot of anger, Lanny kept his cool,” Rawlings said. “He kept presenting the facts, presenting the facts, presenting the facts … and we were able to implement Lake Source Cooling. It’s been a phenomenal model for other communities.”

Rawlings mentioned highlights of sustainability at Cornell, such as when President David Skorton signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007 and the Cornell Board of Trustees approved a university policy to achieve silver LEED certification for projects costing more than $5 million. “A quarter of our faculty are now involved in sustainability research, with many projects funded through the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future,” he said.

Rawlings also noted that the university’s sustainability efforts are not confined to Ithaca. “Cornell’s future, broadly speaking, lies in its ability to connect upstate with downstate. … Now we can say that we are visibly and seriously in both. With Cornell Tech rising on Roosevelt Island [and through] Weill Cornell Medicine, ILR School programs and the many extension programs in New York City, Cornell is legitimately an upstate and downstate institution,” Rawlings said.

Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Cornell Engineering and co-chair of the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group; Paul Streeter, vice president for budget and planning; and Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, gave presentations on the recent report “Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus by 2035.”

Collins spoke of the importance of studying geothermal energy as a way to heat campus buildings: “If we’re successful, it means that geothermal energy is available to a much wider range of places on the Earth. And in some sense we’d be touching off a new industry, and that’s what’s exciting – that Cornell is right there at the beginning of that industry, and upstate New York could be there at the beginning of that industry – to generate a lot of economic activity.” 

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John Carberry