Alumni, Staff Push for Carbon Neutrality at U-M

Voices for Carbon Neutrality discusses the urgent need to act on climate change.
Read time: 2 minutes
U-M's CFO Geoff Chatas, Voices for Carbon Neutrality's Larry Junck, Jane Vogel, and Tom Porter, and U-M President Santa Ono.

Voices for Carbon Neutrality is a group of University of Michigan faculty, staff, graduate students, and alumni leaders actively advocating for carbon neutrality at U-M. Started in 2018, the group aims to serve as a catalyst and accelerant for the effort. 

Alumni Advocacy recently spoke to alumni members of Voices for Carbon Neutrality — John Mirsky, ’77, and Kevin Self, ’85, MS’87 — about the organization’s work.

Q: How have you engaged with University leaders to affect change on campus?

A: During our early years, we ensured that every regents meeting had public speakers advocating for more aggressive U-M decarbonization targets and accelerated climate action. In total, over 65 people addressed the meetings over a three-year period. We also engaged one-on-one with individual regents and provided insights on how U-M needed to move forward. 

More recently, we have engaged with a number of key U-M executive officers and new sustainability leaders to offer our perspective on the need for urgency, key initiatives, how to best manage change of this scale, and the unique and essential role of senior leaders.

Q: How has the University’s approach to climate change evolved as a result of your advocacy?

A: Our University has made great strides since we first held our “Towards Carbon Neutrality” event at U-M in April of 2018. At that time, we were in the bottom quartile of Big Ten universities when it came to greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and progress against those targets. The formation of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality in the fall of 2018, its final report adopted by the Board of Regents in May 2021, and the ongoing work are great steps in the right direction but, given the impacts of the climate crisis, we will always be pushing for more and faster.

Q: Why is this work so urgent?

A: Even here in the state of Michigan, we are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change, from last summer’s smoke-filled sunsets due to Western Canadian wildfires to our warmer, almost snowless winters, and flooding from torrential summer storms; elsewhere, the impacts are much more severe. Thus we must act now to prevent even worse outcomes. Acting yesterday would have been greatly preferred, but here we are.

We also believe that prospective students, faculty, researchers, and other staff are increasingly examining universities’ carbon neutrality commitments. If we want to be the “Leaders and Best” and attract the leaders and best, we must act. 

Q: How can alumni support Voices for Carbon Neutrality’s work or get involved?

A: Be vocal in your support of our work and let our U-M leaders know you are fully supportive. If you are donating to the various U-M fundraising campaigns, mandate that your money be linked towards carbon-neutral-focused activities such as only building net zero buildings, energy efficiency measures, and solar installations. Also, get involved in your local communities’ climate efforts. Finally, consider the personal choices you, your family, and your employer or business make to advance decarbonization specifically and sustainability more broadly.

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