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Yale Steps up Efforts to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

by: John Christoffersen    4 February 2007

Yale is seeing green, but it's not the university's multibillion-dollar endowment.

Worried about global warming, Yale has embarked on an ambitious initiative to cut its heat-trapping "greenhouse" gas emissions to 10 percent below the 1990 level by 2020.

"The consequences of global warming are going to be severe if it continues unabated," Yale President Richard Levin said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's only going to be solved by committed action across the planet."

Yale is among a growing number of universities and smaller colleges around the country cutting emissions in response to concerns about global warming.

At least 70 institutions have adopted commitments to deal with global warming, including Cornell University, Tufts University, Bowdoin College, Middlebury College, the University of California and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to Julie Newman, director of Yale's Office of Sustainability, who runs a consortium of colleges and universities dealing with the issue.

"There is a trend toward universities recognizing the need to take a leadership role in response to global climate change," Newman said Friday.

Yale's 13 million square feet of buildings are kept a couple of degrees cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer than they were in the past.

The school is buying hybrid cars and using biodiesel fuel for buses. Motion detectors shut off power when no one is around and students in university housing compete to conserve energy.

Yale is also increasing the efficiency of its power plant and using "green architecture" for new buildings. That involves techniques such as installing windows that reflect heat in the summer and absorb it in the winter and placing them to minimize energy use.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded for the first time this week that global warming has caused stronger hurricanes, including those in the Atlantic such as Katrina. The panel, which was meeting in Paris, approved language that said an increase in hurricane and tropical cyclone strength since 1970 "more likely than not" can be attributed to man-made global warming, participants said.

Yale hopes its initiative will encourage governments to act as well. The chief executives of 10 corporations, including Alcoa Inc., BP America Inc., DuPont Co., Caterpillar Inc., General Electric Co. and Duke Energy Corp., recently called for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Yale, which began the effort in 2005, reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent in the first year, Levin said. Yale says it will cost less than $20 million annually, less than 1 percent of its $2 billion operating budget.

If successful, Yale will cut its emissions by 43 percent from 2004 levels at a time when plans call for the university to grow. Experts believe that level of reduction is needed around the world to stop temperatures from rising, Levin said.

"We are within the range of what everyone should be doing to combat this problem," Levin said.