FROM THE CHANCELLOR
Originally published in the American Council on Education’s “Solutions for Our Future,” electronic newsletter, June 5, 2008
World Environment Day is an opportunity for colleges and universities around the world to reflect on the critically important task of healing a wounded planet and creating new forms of sustainable energy.
A decades-long tradition of environmentally friendly practices, education, research and service at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) has now become an urgent calling as global warming and sustainability have become the defining issues of our era.
Our efforts are epitomized by the work of one of our civil engineering professors, Bernard Amadei who founded Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB) in 2001, a nonprofit that has undertaken numerous engineering projects around the world that provide clean water, sanitation, energy and education to villages in underdeveloped countries in a sustainable fashion. Today, EWB has grown to include 14,000 student and professional members working on 250 sustainable engineering projects in 48 countries from aqueducts in Mali to solar panels in Rwanda.
This is just one example of the unifying influence universities can have in addressing some of society’s biggest problems. Today no problem is bigger than the survival of our planet and so in 2006 we launched the CU Energy Initiative to address the scientific, political, social and economic challenges of developing and implementing renewable and sustainable energy. The result is 43 research interests that address energy efficient buildings, energy storage, hydrogen production, solar and wind energy, and biofuels and biorefining to name a few. The CU Energy Initiative also includes new graduate and undergraduate curricula as well as addresses such issues as energy policy and law, entrepreneurship and market research, and cultural transformation into a new energy society.
Twentieth century theologian and social activist Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.” So as part of the CU Energy Initiative, CU is participating in the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory with the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. This unified effort marks a new model for shared research to develop new energy technologies that can be transferred rapidly to the private sector. Within 15 months, the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory has exceeded expectations by attracting some of the world’s largest private corporations as sponsors for its research centers. In return the sponsors gain immediate knowledge of new discoveries and the opportunity to meet and recruit some of the best science and engineering graduate students in the nation.
The collaboratory’s first research center, on biorefining and biofuels, is not even a year old and already has more than two dozen diverse private industry partners and 10 funded research projects. The newest research center, devoted to the development of future solar technologies, was announced in April on the eve of Earth Day and the collaboratory expects to announce additional centers in wind energy, carbon management and energy efficiency soon.
Our efforts are not limited to renewable energy development. From the Arctic to Antarctica and from Costa Rica to Colorado, hundreds of researchers and students from CU are chronicling environmental changes to better understand the impacts of natural and human-caused climate warming.
The U.S. Arctic Research Commission met in Boulder in February to learn of our climate change research. One of the many things the commissioners heard was that researchers from CU’s National Snow and Ice Data Center found that the extent of Arctic sea ice during the annual September minimum broke the previous record by 460,000 square miles an area the size of Alaska and California combined. Some of these same researchers shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to the groundbreaking international report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Our commitment to environmental research and education has helped CU become one of the nation’s top three funded environmental research universities, with $90.8 million in funded research, according to the National Science Foundation. We are using our research strengths to contribute to this body of knowledge so future generations can live on a sustainable planet while we train the next generation of scientists
Climate change and energy sustainability are among the greatest challenges we face and our universities must lead by example. At CU, two new educational buildings are the first two public buildings in Colorado to be LEED gold certified and two more new buildings on our campus are expected to earn that benchmark of energy efficiency in the near future. Across the nation, more than 540 colleges and universities have signed the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, pledging to plan for a net-zero carbon campus. Recognizing that we must take a leadership role, CU was one of the original signatories last year.
In signing this pledge I thought of the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, who 100 years ago visited Boulder while leading efforts to establish our national park system and said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
Our students also are providing national leadership. CU students organized and supported the nation’s first student environmental center in 1970, a university recycling program in 1974, and a university wind energy purchase in 2000. Our students established one of the nation’s first pre-paid student bus pass programs in 1991, which today provides more than 3 million passenger rides per year. This student-inspired tradition has made it incumbent on CU to answer the call from our ailing planet. Indeed it is the duty of every university.
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