LETTER: Thank you President Ryan for carbon neutrality by 2030

Bold climate action is what our students need most, and U.Va. shows compassion and leadership by setting a high bar

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President Jim Ryan and the Board of Visitors are demonstrating a hopeful path —100 percent renewable electricity.

I have worked at the University for 20 years. For the first time, I feel I truly belong.

Climate change is my guiding light. Every day, I decide where to invest my energy, time and money, asking “how does this create a better climate future?” I study and teach climate change. I engage with climate initiatives with governments and institutions. I vote. When I am in front of 300 undergraduates describing the path we are on, or looking at my children across the table, I worry. They will live their entire lives facing the consequences of our actions between now and 2030. The University’s goal begins to tip the balance in their favor. 

In class, I described how it took 10,000 years to warm up from the last ice age — 20 generations for a tree species that lives 500 years. Plenty of time to adjust. Right now, climate change of similar magnitude is happening in the span of 200 years — or within the lifetime of one tree. No time to adjust. Looking out at my students, it pained me that the world could change so impossibly fast around my students as they grow. Unlike trees, humans can move. More importantly, we have the ability to create change. We must, and we will.

I recently spoke in my son’s eighth grade class to children who could be the younger siblings of my students. Someone asked “what happens if we don’t do something in time?” I paused, thinking of entire summers in Charlottesville with temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit, up to three feet of sea level rise on our coast and devastating floods such as the one that killed two people in Albemarle County last year. We could see much worse — economic disruption, food shortages, climate refugees and conflict. I told them it could be bad, but we still have time. 

A better climate future means moving away from fossil fuels now. President Jim Ryan and the Board of Visitors are demonstrating a hopeful path — 100 percent renewable electricity, heat without coal, electric buses, sustainable food choices and more. For that, I am thankful.

Deborah Lawrence is a Professor of Environmental Sciences and Director of the Program in Environmental Thought and Practice at the University.

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