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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 28, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 19
Work Begins on Climate Change Effort

Benjamin Hobbs, chair of the President's Task Force on Climate Change, outside Homewood's Power Plant.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Task force will guide development of university policy

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Benjamin Hobbs says that, right here and now, Johns Hopkins has the opportunity to leverage its strengths and influence to help safeguard the future of the planet. An ambitious goal by any stretch, but one he is ready to embrace enthusiastically.

Hobbs, a professor in the Whiting School's Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, has been tapped to chair the President's Task Force on Climate Change, a group that will help guide the development of the university's new climate change policy that focuses on practical, innovative and economically viable approaches to confront this environmental threat.

In his announcement of a climate policy, adopted in July, President William R. Brody said that he feels strongly that universities can and must play a central role in meeting the challenge of climate change.

As part of the policy, the university will set an example through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions derived from university operations, with the long-term vision of carbon neutrality.

On an even grander scale, Johns Hopkins wants to help lead the way to confront global warming through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the development of more-Earth-friendly technologies. 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 harvest its strengths in science, technology, public health and public policy to find solutions to climate change on a global level.

"We are going to look inward at what we are contributing to global warming. That means taking a comprehensive look at our buildings, vehicle use, the stuff we plant, all of it," Hobbs said. "But the task force's work will be a lot broader than that. We are also going to look at what JHU can do for the community, the nation and the world in terms of being an intellectual leader, a creator of new knowledge and an educator in the realm of climate change."

Hobbs, a much-sought-after expert on environmental and energy systems analysis and economics, joined Johns Hopkins in 1996. He has two decades of experience in the area of energy supply, including work with the Netherlands Energy Research Foundation and the California power market.

The task force, which will meet for the first time this week, is specifically charged with developing within one year a comprehensive strategic plan and creating an interdisciplinary working group of experts who will focus on innovative and novel approaches related to climate change. Its membership includes a number of people from outside Johns Hopkins.

Serving along with Hobbs are Scott Barrett, professor at SAIS; William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Thomas Burke, professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health; Kenneth DeFontes, president and CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric; Andrew Frank, first deputy mayor of Baltimore City; Kristina Johnson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; F. Pierce Linaweaver, trustee emeritus; Sally MacConnell, Johns Hopkins Health System; James McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration; Teryn Norris, undergraduate student; Jack Ross, a consulting engineer with Ross Infrastructure; Darryn Waugh, a professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; and Samuel Yee, Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Task Force on Climate Change was convened in large part due to a call from students. In 2006, a group of undergraduates formed the Hopkins Energy Action Team, or HEAT, whose members urged the university administration to adopt a new climate change policy that would set a goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2015. The team involved nearly two dozen student groups and received broad support from the student body.

HEAT member Teryn Norris, a sophomore majoring in international studies, says that the students presented a united and committed front.

"We were, of course, very pleased when President Brody announced the formation of this task force," said Norris, who will serve on that body. "The issues related to global warming and climate change will certainly impact our generation, and that is why we are so committed to this effort. We want to make sure the university sets out some ambitious goals."

Hobbs said that student involvement will be an essential element in all relevant greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies.

"The students feel very strongly about this, and the pressure they've been exerting has already made a very positive difference here," Hobbs said. "They will certainly play a vital effort in our efforts moving forward."

Due to the enormity of its charge, the task force will be broken up into three working groups: Tactics and Strategies, Community Partnerships, and Innovation and Research.

The Tactics and Strategies working group will help develop a broad collection of technical measures, behavioral incentives and innovative approaches to reducing carbon emissions on the JHU campuses. Hobbs said that this group will examine everything from leaky old windows to how university personnel get to and from work.

"In terms of solutions and approaches, we want to look into behavioral incentives to get people to, for example, turn off lights, take public transportation or, if applicable, even bike to campus," said Hobbs, who himself bikes to work when possible.

The Community Partnerships group, Hobbs said, will develop and nurture relationships with state, city and community organizations to explore ways to enhance shared goals, transfer knowledge and collaborate on efforts related to climate change.

The Innovation and Research group will seek to spur creativity, innovation and new avenues of scholarship by re-examining various aspects of climate change from a multidisciplinary perspective. Hobbs said that this group's work is not confined to traditional Earth science or to just the Homewood schools. It's also got the charge of energizing the curriculum. It could be more than courses, he said. It could be entire new curricula or degrees.

"All of our divisions have a stake in this," he said. "SAIS, for example, is a world leader in training diplomats and leaders of business, people who will go on to negotiate pacts and set policy in the area of climate change. The School of Public Health will be involved, clearly. Just as an example, they've witnessed firsthand how Dengue fever has become more and more of a problem due to global warming."

Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, was once confined to the tropics, but rising temperatures have moved the range of these particular mosquitoes as far north as the continental United States.

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 group will work in consort with the Johns Hopkins Sustainability Committee, a 16-member group formed in 2006 to head a universitywide effort to greatly improve Johns Hopkins' environmental profile. The committee 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. It also will undertake tasks such as compiling a "greenhouse gas inventory" for the university.

The Task Force on Climate Change will meet four times a year, and its working groups will meet as often as necessary, Hobbs said.

He said that while the group is focused on long-term strategies and goals, he anticipates that the group's members will help stimulate activities that can be undertaken in the short term.

"I can see a member of a working group going back to his or her division with ideas that they might be able to implement, or perhaps just stimulate future discussion on the topic," he said. "What I don't want is for us to meet the minimum number of times in order to present Dr. Brody with a plan. I want to energize people and have them look at this effort for what it is: an opportunity for real change and impact on a large-scale level."


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