The Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth and this summer's Live Earth concert may have raised public awareness of climate issues, but a growing number of scientists had already been sounding a call to arms to confront global warming through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the development of more Earth-friendly technologies.
Johns Hopkins wants to help lead the way.
President William R. Brody has just announced the adoption of a climate change policy that seeks to make Johns Hopkins a driving force in the development of solutions to what many call a climate crisis.
In an e-mail message being sent today to the JHU community, Brody wrote, "Johns Hopkins is eager to rise to this immense challenge. I believe that sustainable solutions to the global climate change problem will require both changes in individual behavior and cultural changes. Johns Hopkins will take a leadership role in discovering both practical and innovative changes and will promote their adoption."
As part of the policy, the university will set an example through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions derived from university operations, with the vision of carbon neutrality.
Outside of its sphere, the university will offer leadership and assistance on actions that can help reduce the carbon footprint of the Baltimore-Washington region. The policy also calls for JHU to leverage its strengths in science, technology, public health and public policy to find solutions to climate change on a global level.
Lastly, the policy acknowledges the need to incorporate student involvement as an essential element in all relevant greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies.
To help implement the new policy, Brody will form a President's Task Force on Climate Change. The task force's charge is to develop within one year a comprehensive climate strategic plan and to create an interdisciplinary working group of experts who will focus on innovative and novel approaches related to climate change. In addition, the task force will begin to partner with state and local governments within the greater Baltimore-Washington region on climate change efforts.
Specifically, the task force will look into the feasibility of more-energy-efficient facilities (existing and planned), alternative fuel use, the addition of climate-related courses to the curriculum, collaborative efforts with the community and other schools, and other proposals. The task force will also lead an effort to determine JHU's "carbon footprint," both current and projected.
The committee, which has yet to be appointed, will consist of university personnel and non-Hopkins-affiliated members.
James McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration, said that because of the enormity of the issues, the committee will likely break into several subcommittees focused on specific tasks. McGill said that the groups will begin their work in September.
McGill lauded Brody's vision.
"President Brody is committed to the development of thoughtful, fact-based, effective actions that faculty, staff and students at Johns Hopkins can undertake to address the serious matter of climate change," he said. "The issues are deep and complex, involving technology, science, health and politics. The committee will determine how best to bring Hopkins' special resources to bear on the problems. The committee will also develop a set of proposed actions for Johns Hopkins to take."
Brody noted that, in many ways, Johns Hopkins' work on climate change has already begun.
Last year, Brody convened the Johns Hopkins University Sustainability Committee, a 16-member group to head a universitywide effort to greatly improve Johns Hopkins' environmental profile. The committee, chaired by Davis Bookhart, manager of Energy Management and Environmental Stewardship in the Office of Facilities Management, provides a unifying voice for environmentally conscious and clean energy-focused initiatives such as the use of biodiesel fuels, solar power and recycled storm water.
In May, the committee released a series of recommendations on addressing climate change that included the development of a strategic plan for the university.
Earlier in 2007, Johns Hopkins was instrumental in bringing Flexcar, a car-sharing program that uses low-emission hybrids, to Baltimore. The program, started with four cars on the Homewood campus, began in March and was so successful that the university quickly decided to double the number.
On a national front, Johns Hopkins and a dozen other major universities — including the Ivy League institutions, Stanford, the University of Chicago and MIT — are exploring a collaborative effort. To date, a climate-focused working group has been formed to share ideas and develop solutions.
Bookhart, a member of the working group, said that he is excited and optimistic about the role JHU will play in the effort to address global warming.
"I simply can't overstate how important it is that we've taken a strong and public position on climate change," Bookhart said. "This may be the most critical issue facing this generation of students, and they will deal with effects of climate change in one form or another throughout the entire span of their careers."
Brody said that he envisions the policy as a long-term strategy that will need time to show results.
"The challenge of climate change is huge, but it is not insurmountable," Brody said. "Our university, with its wealth of intellectual resources, can make a difference. Working across divisional lines and in collaboration with partners in academia and in the community, we can put our knowledge and expertise to work attacking and, ultimately, helping to solve this problem."