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Urgency of climate crisis motivating action across the UW

On a near-daily basis, the relentless impacts of climate change are on display here and around the world, reshaping lives and ecosystems.

That’s why climate change and broader issues of sustainability permeate our teaching, guide our research and fuel our service to the community. Climate change and sustainability are also at the forefront of advocacy and activism by UW students, such as the UW chapter of Institutional Climate Action, and many of their peers. Like many others of this generation, climate change is existential to them, and they have, and will continue to, push us to move even more quickly.

But regardless of any tension over how quickly we can achieve total decarbonization, we completely agree that addressing climate change is vital to the health and prosperity of everyone. That is why environmental resilience is one of the three pillars of the UW’s Population Health Initiative, launched in 2016; why we started the College of the Environment, still the largest in the country; and why UW’s EarthLab was created to spur novel, equitable and scalable climate change solutions.

In a significant development this spring, we were proud to announce that the UW is a core partner of the New York Climate Exchange, which will be a world-leading climate solutions center benefitting from the UW’s strengths in environmental science, clean energy research and a range of other relevant disciplines. And climate action and adaptation are central topics for the Board of Deans and Chancellors, highlighting our commitment to fostering interdisciplinary collaboration across all colleges and campuses.

As part of our commitment to improving the UW’s own sustainability and moving toward  decarbonization – driven by  advocacy from students, staff, faculty and others – we’ve committed to disinvesting from direct investments in fossil fuel companies by 2027, promoted public transit through a universal U-PASS, and worked to reduce individual commuting by car through the 2019 Seattle Campus Master Plan.

As a critical part of our decarbonization efforts, UW Facilities is undertaking an in-depth evaluation of what it will take to drastically reduce carbon emissions from our Seattle campus operations. This includes transforming the steam plant that has, for more than a century, provided heating, cooling, hot water and processed steam to buildings across the 600 acres of the Seattle campus, including many of our clinics and hospitals. This is the University’s largest source of emissions and so has been a key area of focus for our energy transformation strategy.

The cost for implementing this energy transformation falls in a range of $700–900 million. To fund this effort we will work on obtaining significant state and/or federal financial support. It will also require us to work with other entities, such as utility providers and regulators, so cooperation from others is also vital. Our goal is to begin work this fall on a plan with specific, feasible timelines for transforming or replacing the power plant.

To the members of the UW chapter of Institutional Climate Action who have tirelessly raised awareness of this critical issue, we share a common objective: mitigating climate change and curbing our university’s contribution to it. I eagerly anticipate our progress as a University community. While the undertaking ahead is monumental, our position as a public research university uniquely equips us to lead this transformative change. Together, we can make a profound difference in the fight against climate change.