Students from the MaryPIRG Student Climate Action Coalition are actively petitioning to get their climate change bill, Future Act, passed across the University System of Maryland.
The student-led group wrote the bill last year with a goal of requiring all public universities in Maryland to become carbon neutral by 2035. The bill defines carbon neutrality as each school being at net zero emissions. Schools will still emit emissions until proper infrastructure is phased out and other emissions from students and staff are handled, but they can use carbon offsets to “cancel out” those emissions, according to Campaign Coordinator Reese Barrett.
Barrett, a junior chemical engineering major with a sustainability minor, says the bill also has provisions that discuss environmental justice, enhance offices of sustainability and provide sustainability education to students.
The bill breaks down different types of emissions and deadlines by three scopes. Scope one includes eliminating direct emissions produced by a campus, such as school owned vehicles and boilers. Scope two includes eliminating indirect emissions such as purchased electricity. The deadline for these two scopes to be fulfilled is on or before 2025, according to the bill.
The bill says that scope three plans to eliminate induced emissions, which are not owned by the university but still a part of operations. This includes air travel that is a part of a study abroad program and students that commute to campus.
“All of those things are really difficult to make renewable right now,” says Barrett. “While we’re waiting for technology to advance to that point, we allow for carbon offsets to be used, which are basically negative emissions, and they’ll cancel out these emissions and get us to carbon neutrality.”
The deadline for scope three is 2035, according to the bill.
The bill is currently still in the legislative process with action last taken in February, according to the Maryland Legislature. Barrett says that around 1,500 students from across the state signed petitions for the Future Act to be passed over the course of two years. The group recently petitioned in front of McKeldin Library and received over 1,000 additional signatures, according to their Instagram.
This is just one of the campaigns attached to MaryPIRG students, whose website says that they are a statewide student-run advocacy group. Other current campaigns include combating food insecurity, advocating for COVID-19 resources on campus and advocating for more affordable textbooks.
Sarah Shames, a staff person for the organization, says that this is MaryPIRG’s first climate action coalition campaign.
When it comes to what students can do to help reach carbon neutrality, Barrett says that the issue is more of a systemic burden and that it’s not good for someone’s mental health to think they are solely contributing to the problem.
“All of us individuals are really a drop in the bucket,” says Barrett, “to frame emissions reductions in terms of like ‘you should bike instead of driving your car’ is a way for a lot of those big polluters to shift the blame from to the individual, instead of to the system that’s really causing the problem.”
Shames says that the group’s goal is to reach 5,000 signatures across the University System of Maryland and can be signed digitally via their Instagram bio or in person at one of their upcoming events. She encourages students looking for ways to help to not only sign the petition, but to attend some of their virtual rallies and to further educate themselves on climate issues.