Solutions: Princeton U. students tackle fossil fuel emissions

By Huck Fairman

A majority of Americans now acknowledge that global warming exists, that mankind is responsible, and that we need to do something about it, before it is too late. But for many, however, the question remains: what can we do? Fortunately, there are answers.

A number of governmental organizations, from our local Sustainable Princeton to the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, are each organizing and proposing steps. Encouragingly also, Jonathan Lu, class of 2018 from our local university, together with 10 to 20 students, started the Princeton Students’ Climate Initiative in early 2017. These students saw the need to come together to propose environmental policies that would lead to a reduction of fossil fuel emissions — something that was stalled at our federal government.

Wisely, among their first steps was to consult with Professor Andrew Zwicker of Princeton’s Plasma Physics lab and the New Jersey General Assembly — a man who bridged the worlds of academia and policy. He recommended that they research a white paper detailing both New Jersey’s environmental situation and steps necessary to counter it — that is, to formulate public policies to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

Their research took them, for example, to the Federal Governments’ Energy Information Administration, which compiles statistics on the sources of CO2 emissions. This led them to find, among other things, that 85 percent of New Jersey’s emissions are outside the electric power sector, even though the power sector is the primary target of several initiatives. (Both the town and the university are also fortunate to have as a neighbor the research and journalism source on climate change, Climate Central.)

The team continued to research throughout 2017, consulting with Zwicker multiple times. He provided feedback on the more particular details to be solved: legal issues, economic effects, policy interactions. After nine months of work, the group completed a 94-page white paper in January 2018. It also began reaching out to stakeholders: environmental, labor, business, energy, environmental justice groups, to discuss this further.

Thus the daunting, larger picture was broken up into manageable segments. As these requirement pieces of legislation became evident, members saw that sources of funding, from other students and/or the community, would also be necessary, to deal with expenses for transportation and communications. Luckily, the University is well-endowed with such resources.

It also became evident that members would need to learn research methods, advocacy techniques, and how to simply talk with community members. New Jersey’s population of just under 9 million (2015) would require considerable outreach, expenses and effort.

As necessity is often the mother of invention, Princeton’s Student Climate Initiative learned from the District of Columbia that by putting a price (or fee) on carbon usage, a source of revenue can become available for various purposes — either returning the revenue to tax payers or using it to finance carbon reduction.

The group is now planning a Sept. 15 forum that will convene diverse stakeholders from across New Jersey to discuss climate policies. For those central New Jersey residents who want to reach out to the students now, and/or over the summer, their email address is: PS.climate.initiative@gmail.com.

Citizens, and students, around the nation have seen how school shootings can mobilize people, young and old, to change policy. Looking nationally and globally, one can see that climate change is an even more destructive threat than are guns. In response, PSCI is helping formulate policies that can make a difference. And they are tackling the complexities of legislation even as the challenges of their academic requirements keep them more than busy. To them, the effort is that important.