The U, Minneapolis fight high emissions

Charley Bruce

Minneapolis and the University have literally cut tons of carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to fight global climate change.

People identifying themselves with the University are leading the Minnesota Energy Challenge among Minnesota schools, reducing emissions by about 46 tons. Minneapolis has trimmed emissions by more than 3,500 tons – the largest reduction of any city in the state.

The Challenge, sponsored by the Center for Energy and Environment, aims to get individuals to conserve energy as part of larger energy-cutting teams. People register on teams of cities or schools and pledge to take steps to cut energy use.

The center is a nonprofit organization that works with the public to encourage efficient use of natural and economic resources. The center advocates energy initiatives at the state Legislature.

CEE Executive Director Sheldon Strom said the group is frustrated that its proposed policy changes don’t become law.

The Challenge, Strom said, is a way for individual citizens who are concerned about the environment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and energy use. Ways to slice consumption include using more efficient light bulbs, unplugging unused devices and driving cars less frequently.

Strom said CEE uses these simple steps as a “gateway drug,” hoping people will get “addicted” to saving energy.

“The idea is to build up momentum from the bottom up to try change the culture on these issues in Minnesota,” he said.

About 2,800 teams have signed up for the Challenge, Strom said.

Peter Ciborowski, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency research scientist, put the University’s energy savings in context. A typical car getting about 20 miles per gallon emits about seven tons of carbon dioxide a year, he said.

The principle source of carbon dioxide in the environment is from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, Ciborowski said.

Carbon dioxide traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, he said, and its quick accumulation in the atmosphere contributes to increasing temperatures and global climate change.

He said the typical Minnesota household is responsible for emitting 30 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Ciborowski said one of the easiest ways to reduce these levels is to buy better technology, such as more fuel-efficient cars or higher-efficiency appliances.

“It will cost more in the short term, but usually these things, over a lifetime, pay for themselves,” he said.

A 22 mpg vehicle costs more than $1,300 a year to fuel at $2.34 a gallon, according to CEE figures.

It’s hard for a single person to make an impact, so there have to be efforts “at a state level, a business level and an international level” to effectively fight climate change, Ciborowski said.

University Director of Energy Jerome Malmquist said Facilities Management isn’t part of the Minnesota Energy Challenge, but is involved with the Chicago Climate Exchange, a similar initiative.

Malmquist said the Challenge is meant to get people to start reducing emissions, but the University has already initiated measures to save energy.

An energy efficiency group at the University – in place since the mid ’90s – spends $1 million to $3 million per year on conservation projects, he said.

New construction projects are 30 percent more energy efficient than building codes require, Malmquist said.

The University has also switched to higher-efficiency light bulbs.

The Facilities Management engineering department ensures University buildings run efficiently, further saving energy, said Malmquist, who is also working with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group for a second annual energy war in the residence halls.

As they did last year, MPIRG and Facilities Management plan to compile a baseline for energy comparison among residence halls for a yet-to-be-determined prize, said Leo Kucek, a chemical engineering junior and MPIRG’s campus sustainability task force leader.

Kucek said he doesn’t want to constrain people’s daily activities. Instead, he wants people to be smart about their energy use.

“If there’s no one in a room, the lights should be off – basic common sense things,” he said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city is trying to be a leader in getting citizens to take small steps to fight climate change.

He said there is not one single step a person or group can take to stop high energy use, but many small efforts add up to a large effect.

Rybak said the city has changed street lights to LED bulbs, started to use hybrids and E85 vehicles in the city fleet and will enforce environmentally- friendly building standards in all city buildings.

“The most important thing we can do as public officials right now is make sure citizens take those simple, basic steps necessary for all of us to fight climate change,” Rybak said.